How to Hack Your To-Do List

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / March 30, 2019
How to prevent your to-do list from stressing you out

If you’re overwhelmed by your list of duties, blaring music might help.

It turns out that tunes can make you a more productive worker. To be sure, if you need to really concentrate, you’ll have to go light on the lyrics to get the full mental-boosting power of melodies. You might want to turn to songs between — rather than during — lengthy tasks. However, you can be certain that any music will help you motor along.

You might wonder, though, whether music-powered efficiency is really enough to conquer your ever-growing to-do list. It doesn’t matter what Spotify plays.

Stressed and Overcommitted

How did we get to a place where it seems we can’t even begin to chip away at all the tasks before us? According to research from the Association for Talent Development, several things could fuel our unwillingness to say “no,” even when we’re already in over our heads.

The first reason we automatically say “yes” to new to-dos boils down to the natural human desire to help. In other words, we’re too darn nice. Too often, we agree to solve everyone else’s problems by taking concerns off their plates. The problem is, those concerns quickly become our own. The corresponding stresses do, too.

Other reasons for accepting projects can include fear and confusion. Anyone who’s ever had a demanding advisor or investor knows how tough it can be to push back against a request. How far can we go before seeming recalcitrant? What will the fallout be for declining something presented as an “opportunity”?

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Finally, some of us just hate disappointing others. Therefore, we load up on obligations and do our best to fulfill as many of them as possible. Never mind that an estimated 81 percent of us are so stressed that we struggle to feel present from moment to moment. We keep at the grindstone as long as we mentally and physically can.

If you’re an overcommitted leader, try the following hacks to gain control over your to-do list. 

1. Make your inbox wait its turn.

Do you immediately open email upon awakening? You’re allowing your inbox to control your schedule. Rather than give everyone else first dibs on your precious time, organize your task list. Do it before seeing what others expect (or hope) you’ll accomplish. That way, you can prioritize your most important agenda items so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

For Kerry Goyette, president of corporate consulting firm Aperio Consulting Group, this type of time budgeting is imperative. “Prioritizing is one of the most energy-intensive tasks the brain undertakes,” Goyette explains, “so it’s vital to establish a habit of listing strategic priorities at the start of the workday before distractions fill up the schedule.” Be sure to share this hint with your team members, too. Your whole organization will see a spike in production.

2. Tackle top priorities at peak performance times.

Merge your calendar with your to-do list. This can help you rearrange your most critical tasks around your high-performance times. Not sure when you work best? Monitor your energy levels for a week, indicating when you feel most “in the zone.” Those time periods are perfect for doing highly essential work. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, you get to control when you handle big assignments.

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Not only does reorganizing duties around your peak hours help you prioritize your commitments, but it also gives you tremendous freedom. You’ll feel less guilty about heading to the gym at noon if you know you’ve scheduled an important responsibility later in the day. With your endorphins surging, you’ll actually do a better job.

3. Eat the elephant in tiny bites.

Meetings, phone calls, and conferences are part and parcel of business life. Don’t get frustrated because they keep interrupting your productivity. Instead, work on your to-do list in increments between other commitments. The simplest way is to cut up a large responsibility into a series of little ones. You can complete those smaller, less time-consuming tasks between face-to-face discussions.

Although you might rather just sit down and finish an entire project all at once, you don’t always have that luxury. “Presentation prep” can instead be broken up: draw up charts, send to colleagues for review, and draft an agenda. Taking on a large job a bit at a time ensures you complete the assignment by its deadline. It also eliminates the pressure of finding time to do everything in one fell swoop. Best of all, you’ll be less stressed, thanks to a sense of continuous progress.

No doubt, conquering any to-do list can be a challenge. Try different strategies to find the ideal approach for your personality and habits. Then, turn on Pandora and work your way to enviable effectiveness.

About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.


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