Is your daily to-do list starting to require a stapler, binder, or its own organizer?
I was hammering away on my laptop last fall and I glanced at my to-do list. It was long. An entire 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet. Very few items were crossed off; everything was taking longer than expected. It felt good when I made the list, but hours later, reality revealed very few completed items.
I couldn’t get it all done.
The dreaded state of overwhelm.
Has this happened to you? Do you become frozen; paralyzed by a to-do list too long to accomplish? Have you spent hours organizing your calendar, scheduler, and making plans?
With a mile-long to-do list, a person keeps thinking about it. Stressing about it.
Why do we create the artifice of busyness?
Creating a long to-do list actually gives a person a sense of accomplishment before they have really done anything at all. Tim Pychyl, Ph.D., writes about a phenomenon in Psychology Today called pre-crastination. We prefer the easier task (of list making) over the actual work of completing the tasks.
How do we solve the problem?
Instead of making a list that covers an entire page, write the top 3 things you will do TODAY.
Only the absolute, most important items that need to be done go on the list. That might be sitting down with your child for homework, writing a thousand words, and grocery shopping. It might be items that each take 10 minutes or items that take hours.
The key is that when you only allow yourself to write down the three most important to-do tasks, something happens:
Those things will get done.
Contrarily, when you create a page-long list, only the easiest tasks get done—not necessarily the most important tasks. You go for the low-hanging fruit or the squeaky wheel instead of what is truly the priority. Then, when you keep looking in on that long list, you freeze. You know you can’t get it all done. Your cortisol spikes.
There is a documented response, called the Zeigarnik Effect: our brains will remember what we have left undone. This, in turn, increases our stress response. By generating a short list of highest-priority items, it allows for completion and closure.
This is not only good for our productivity, it is good for our metabolic and hormonal processes. It removes the other tasks from our mental processing.
You don’t need more time; you need to re-apportion your time. This may mean you don’t log onto social media; you don’t check emails; you work on the target three items until they are done.
You will get more done, feel positive about it, and waste less time.
Planning your day, week, and month should not be its own time barrier to getting the rest of your list completed. It’s time to simplify. Pick your top three and knock them out. Then? You write down your next three. Continue processing only three tasks at a time.
Give it a try this week and see how much more you accomplish!