Is your to-do list a mile long? A few months ago, my weekend to-do list went on for several pages. Yes, I had all that planned for a mere three-day weekend. Just how much did I accomplish from that list? Not much. I felt so overwhelmed that I didn’t know where to start. It’s incredibly frustrating and disheartening to see a long list of things that need to be done yet feel immobilized by the impossibility of it all. Can you relate?
Many of us (especially moms, whose work is never done, anyway) try to tackle more than we can handle. We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by stretching our time too thin. It leaves us feeling stressed out, and in my case, I’m snappy when I’m stressed out. That’s not the kind of wife or mom I want to be.
Although there will always be more to do than you or I can accomplish in a single day, putting limits on your list can actually help you be more productive. Here are 10 tips for taking control of your to-do list.
1. Write it out by hand.
Did you know that writing boosts learning and helps you achieve your goals? You can read more in detail about it here, but in short, writing stimulates parts of your brain that typing doesn’t. You’ll have better memory recall and will think more about your goals because your brain is more engaged in the process.
2. Keep it short.
I actually read this tip in Ruth Soukup’s book, How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul. She recommends writing your daily to-do list on a sticky note. This method helps you keep your list short and helps you be honest with yourself about how much you can really accomplish in a single day. I highly recommend you try this trick yourself. Don’t cheat by writing your tasks super small, though!
3. Schedule a brain dump once a week.
How do our to-do lists get so long in the first place? We dump everything we can remember onto them. This technique has some merit, but it shouldn’t be put on a your daily task list. Instead, schedule a brain dump once a week to make a note of anything that’s rattling around in your head or scribbled on a piece of paper. Review this list weekly to help you create your short daily to-do lists.
4. Plan ahead.
At the end of the day or first thing in the morning, take a few minutes to handwrite your to-do list. Planning ahead prevents that, “Where do I start?” feeling first thing in the morning.
5. Spend only five minutes on your list.
Keeping that long brain-dump list means that you don’t have to wrack your brain to remember your commitments. Set the timer for five minutes and plan your day. At the end of five minutes—or at the end of your sticky note—stop writing. That’s enough for today. Anything else will have to wait. If you’re spending more than five minutes a day on your to-do list, you’re likely making too long of a list.
6. Prioritize the list.
Even when you shorten your to-do list, you may not get everything done. That’s why you need to order your tasks from most important to least important. By tackling the most important items first, you minimize the fires you have to put out later.
7. Estimate the time it will take for each task.
While you’re writing and prioritizing, make a quick note about how long you think it will take to complete each task. Over time you’ll get the hang of allotting enough time for your regular tasks, and you’ll know whether you need to scale back or if you can add an extra item or two each day. A word of warning: don’t give yourself too much time. Work tends to expand to fill the time it is allotted.
8. Keep daily routines off your to-do list.
A great way to unclutter your to-do list is to leave off day-to-day items like washing the dishes or making the beds. You should have these things written down somewhere, just not on your to-do list. Create reusable lists instead by using an app, keeping them in a word document, or using dry-erase markers with laminated lists.
9. Cross off completed items.
This step is self-explanatory, but it’s the best reason for writing out your list rather than typing it. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing off a completed item. It provides a tangible sense of accomplishment. Checking a box on an app just doesn’t have the same thrill for me.
10. Review your list at the end of the day.
Take a moment to review your list at the end of the day. Move anything that still needs to be done on your list for the next day if the items are essential. If they’re not, consider whether they really need to be on your list at all.
For more tips on managing and scheduling your time, check out “How to Create the Perfect Work at Home Schedule” from The Classy Chapter.
This post originally appeared on ProductiveWAHM.com.
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