Sometimes it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in a day to get everything done. And when you have twenty things on your to-do list, there’s a constant stress to get through everything. Oftentimes that stress can lead to burnout. However, it doesn’t have to. The truth is, there’s a right way and a wrong way when it comes to to-do lists. One major red flag is not being realistic about what you can get done. Fooding your to-do list with anything and everything that comes to mind is another big blag. Instead, focus on fewer, more effective projects, prioritize the most important and stop saying “yes” to anything that comes your way.
To learn more, here are 10 quick tips to help you manage your time and create effective and actionable to-do lists.
1. Start saying “no.”
It’s tough to say “no” sometimes. We all want to do favors for others but sometimes we’ve got to put ourselves first instead. In fact, when you’re constantly saying “yes” and adding more and more to your to-do list, you’ll eventually stretch yourself too thin and that can easily cause burnout. When someone asks you to help with something or take over a project, assess your own schedule and priorities and be realistic about whether or not you can take this on for them.
2. Be realistic.
Instead of jotting down everything that comes to mind, be specific and realistic when writing out your to-do lists. Ask yourself questions like: What are the most important things I need to get done today? How long will each of these tasks realistically take me? What things can wait until tomorrow? By prioritizing and writing down the tasks that you need to get done that day and giving yourself enough time to efficiently complete them, you’ll be less stressed and feel more successful.
3. Focus on quality not quantity.
To-do lists are great ways to help us stay focused and motor through our work, but it’s not all about trying to pack millions of things in one day. It’s incredibly important to make sure you’re doing thorough and quality work. Keep in mind the mentality, “quality over quantity.” It’s easy to feel like you’ve accomplished many things when you’ve got a long list of items crossed off on your to-do list. But that’s not the case — it’s most important to understand how effective you’ve been and that the work you did actually mattered.
4. Keep it short.
You might not believe this one but if you truly want to be successful, keep your to-do list very, very short. In fact, it’s advised not to have more than three things on your to-do list everyday. Some of the most successful people only have one thing on their to-do list. Ask yourself: What is the one thing that I can do today that will move my business, or myself, forward?
5. Write it out the night before.
Try writing out your to-do list the night before. This will help give you a clear idea of what your day is going to look like. Then, from the moment you wake up, there’s no time to waste. You can quickly get started on task number one.
6. Don’t multitask.
Research shows that multitasking can actually make us less productive. When you’re constantly juggling multiple things at one time, you’re never going to be able to hone in on one thing, give it your all and get it done to the best of your ability. Multitasking can also cause stress and anxiety, which will prevent you from moving forward in business and life.
7. Use “if-then” planning.
“If-then” planning is a strategy aimed to help you reach your goal or finish a project, and it not only involves listing out your to-do list in advance but also when and where you will do the things too. The format — which is backed by psychologists and reported to increase the likelihood of reaching a goal by 200-300 percent — looks like this: “If (or When) ____ occurs, then I will ____. For example, “When it is 3 p.m. today, then I will stop whatever I am doing and work on this project.” Another example could be, “If it is Monday or Tuesday, then I will go to the gym after work.”
8. Do not check your email constantly throughout the day.
Sometimes a simple refresh of your inbox can turn into hours responding, deleting and writing emails. Instead of getting trapped in the email black hole, pick two or three times a day when you will check your email. One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. It’s especially important not to open your email the minute you wake up in the morning. That can lead you to doing other tasks and distract you from the most important ones listed on your to-do list.
9. Put yourself first.
Sometimes when we’re too focused on getting everything done, we forget to take care of ourselves. Don’t become overly obsessed or involved in getting everything done on your to do list that you put your own health and well-being at risk. Make sure you maintain a healthy balance that includes exercise, diet, socializing and other things that you enjoy to make sure you don’t reach burnout. A good way to do this is by constantly checking in with yourself. Ask questions like: How are my relationships with my friends and family? Have I spent enough time outdoors this week? Have I gone to the gym this week?
Breathe, take breaks, go for a walk, read a few pages of a book, listen to music. Don’t let your head spin just because of your to-do list. If you start to feel anxious or stressed, take a few minutes to breathe and disconnect. You’ll feel much more clear-headed and ready to tackle that list after.