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Get more done: a step-by-step guide to conquer your to-do list

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Ever experienced that sinking feeling when you end your day, only to find your to-do list has multiplied, not diminished?


When I began my first job as a middle school teacher, I was also pursuing a graduate degree. Despite my best efforts, I never seemed to make significant dents in my ever-expanding to-do list.


I believed I was following all the right strategies, yet my to-do list continued to swell daily, leaving me overwhelmed and feeling like each day was a failure. I experimented with various techniques, from using a bullet journal and setting reminders to even sacrificing sleep (a decision I would later regret).


Before long, both my colleagues and roommates noticed the toll my overwhelming workload was taking on me.

I rarely get everything done on my to-do list:

  • Agree

  • Neutral

  • Disagree


Fast forward to today, and my life is a world apart from those hectic days. I've uncovered a strategy that allows me to consistently check off every item on my to-do list, all while nurturing a balanced work-life relationship and carving out more time for my cherished hobbies and passions.


As an executive function coach for adults, I am eager to impart the steps I took and the habits I cultivated to ensure I accomplish everything I set out to do, each day.


How do I prioritize my to-dos?

One of the most significant impediments to my productivity was a lack of precise prioritization. Thankfully, the ABC method came to my rescue.


A study from Psychology Today explains:


...those who created formal to-do lists procrastinated less than any other group.

Begin by creating an exhaustive list of all your tasks. Next, assign each task an 'A,' 'B,' or 'C' designation. Here's what these designations signify:


  • 'A' tasks are both urgent and of utmost importance; they must be completed today without fail. For instance, paying rent falls into this category.


  • 'B' tasks are important but lack the urgency of 'A' items. They can wait until tomorrow or later in the week, such as booking a dinner reservation.


  • 'C' tasks, on the other hand, are neither urgent nor highly important. While you may wish to tackle them, delaying them by a week or so won't result in any negative repercussions – think of tasks like reorganizing the garage.


If you still find yourself struggling to prioritize or overwhelmed by too many 'A' tasks, consider employing the Eisenhower Matrix, a powerful tool to refine your task list further.

By adhering to this method, you'll have a precise roadmap for each day, ideally with no more than five 'A' tasks.


How do I keep track of to-dos?

Combining your calendar and to-do list can be a game-changer.


I, personally, opt for a digital calendar like Google Calendar. It's accessible whether I'm at my computer or on the go, enabling me to add tasks promptly, regardless of my location. Here's how:


Using the "create a task" option, I list all my to-dos, categorizing them as 'A,' 'B,' or 'C' tasks.


I then drag my 'A' tasks to the next day, adding specific deadlines to the corresponding dates.


My task list on the right side of the computer screen serves as my master list, which I update each evening.


If you're unfamiliar with Google Tasks, you can find a helpful guide here.


What if I have too many 'A' tasks?

Occasionally, you might find yourself burdened with an excessive number of 'A' tasks.


If this is the case, you are not alone. According to Liana Sayer, the director of the University of Maryland’s Time Use Laboratory,


...many Americans feel shorter on time today than people in those situations did several decades ago.

It's essential to be more realistic and flexible. Ask yourself two critical questions:

  • How crucial is it to complete this task today?

  • What would be the consequence if I postponed it?

More often than not, you'll discover that many 'A' tasks are better categorized as 'B' tasks.


They are indeed important but lack the immediate urgency that 'A' tasks demand.



How can I shorten my to-do list?

Delegation is key! As you review your master task list, identify tasks that you can delegate.


Can your partner or roommate handle the grocery shopping this week? Could a friend step in to drive your son to soccer practice tomorrow evening?


Additionally, a straightforward yet effective tip is to delete items from your list.


I abide by a rule: if something remains on my to-do list for over four weeks, I remove it. If it were genuinely crucial, I would have either accomplished it or delegated it.


What if to-dos arise mid-day?

When an unexpected task crops up amid a hectic day, quickly assess its complexity. If it's a task that can be completed in less than five minutes, tackle it right away.


If not, categorize it as an 'A,' 'B,' or 'C' task and add it to your to-do list.


How can I handle distractions?

Identifying your primary distractions is paramount. Sometimes, I may set out to work, only to find myself sucked into a YouTube rabbit hole of the newest surf edits.


To minimize distractions, try the following:

  • Communicate your need for uninterrupted work time to others.

  • Place your phone in a different room or enable the 'do not disturb' feature.

  • Use noise-canceling headphones.

  • When you open your email, star or mark emails that require immediate response, avoiding the temptation of opening others.

Do you have a favorite way of minimizing distractions? Share it in the comments below!


Additional Tips for Tackling Your To-Dos

Here are a few more strategies employed by others to streamline their to-do lists:

  • Prepare your to-do list the night before to hit the ground running.

  • Dedicate specific days for routine tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, or bill payments.

  • Cultivate a sense of routine in your daily life that involves movement and mindfulness.

  • Lastly, be kind to yourself. The true measure of your worth doesn't hinge on the number of checkboxes on your list.


Conclusion

The journey from overwhelming to productive is a personal transformation that requires dedication and strategic planning but it can be done! Prioritizing tasks with the ABC method, combining calendars and to-do lists, and delegating responsibilities can significantly reduce the daily workload.


Minimizing distractions and adopting a proactive approach to new tasks further contribute to increased productivity.


Finally, embracing routine, planning ahead, and showing self-compassion are essential elements in the pursuit of a more balanced and fulfilling life.


Remember, your true worth is not solely defined by the number of tasks you complete, but by the quality of the moments you experience along the way.


If you want to engage in a free, one-to-one coaching session, to review strategies to improve managing your To Do list, book your session using the link below!


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About the author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.




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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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