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Preventing Pile-Ups: Tackling That To-Do List



New year, new to-do list. Is it already looking interminable?

We hear you. Because while it’s great to start the year by making a note of all your on-going must-dos, the problem here is the “on-going” bit. “A to-do list is psychologically defeating,” observes PEPworldwide managing director Kathryn Anda. “You cross two off, but you add three on – it never stops. You simply end up rewriting your to-do list. What’s happening is that you’re repeating yourself. And what’s worse is that you’re not making decisions on the things you need to do.”

So far, so demoralising. And yet the to-do list itself seems unavoidable – because we all need to keep track somehow, right? So what are you to do (sorry) if an increasing pile-up of priorities is giving you palpitations? Well, help is at hand: we’re here to call time on the tyranny of the to-do list. Our palpitation-preventing pointers follow below:

Break it down.

For once, forget the big picture. In the context of a to-do list, it’s a fast track to meltdown. Force yourself instead to narrow your focus. Take ten or fifteen minutes at the start of the week to turn that soul-destroying set of to-dos into surmountable subsets of daily task lists instead – and apportion them out to the appropriate days of the week. As Anda points out, “If you need to call someone at the end of the week, why put it on your to-do list on Monday? Because all it’s doing is distracting you unnecessarily for five days. Ask yourself when exactly you need to perform that particular duty – and add it to that day’s task list instead.”

Schedule it in.

When we say we’re calling time on to-do lists, we mean that literally. “Everything on your daily task list should take ten minutes or less to do,” says Anda. “If it’s going to take longer, then you need to make a decision about when you can realistically achieve it and block out the appropriate period of time in your calendar.” The bonus? If you’ve scheduled your job into a particular timeframe, you’re less likely to procrastinate about doing it. (Procrastinate? You? Yes, you.)

Tick it off.

Who doesn’t rejoice in crossing jobs off a list? The best part of this divvy-it-up approach is that it enables more ticking off than adding on – and we know which one we prefer. “Every time you tick something off, no matter how minor it may be, you get a sense of achievement. It’s the opposite of psychologically defeating,” explains Anda. In other words, celebrating the successful accomplishment of any undertaking is much more effective than torturing yourself with tasks you have yet to tackle.

Essentially, we’re just restructuring your to-do list into something that’s less demoralising and more – well, doable. But think about it. This simple process of restructuring will encourage you to plan effectively. To procrastinate less. To make timely decisions. And, perhaps most importantly, to put a lid on the panic.

So. Worth doing?