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Tackling Your Long To Do List

Your to-do list can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Each day is full of phone calls and emails to answer, appointments to set up, meetings to attend, errands to run and numerous other tasks can deter you from tackling your long to do list. Even the most organized mind can’t keep track of everything without some form of list. However, when the to-do list gets so long it becomes overwhelming. Distractions then enter the picture, and productivity becomes something that ends up eluding you. There is hope. A bit of extra time organizing will translate eventually into hours saved.


Divide and conquer

From here forward, your main to-do list will be referred to as the Master List, for the sake of clarity. In reality, this master list is at least four lists:

  1. Things that have to be done – These are deadline-related or necessary to keep moving forward, such as the next step of a major project.
  2. Things you want to do – These may be needed, such as re-vamping the filing system or calling a caterer about your daughter’s wedding six months from now.  Some may eventually move up to the above list, but for now they can be delayed.
  3. Things others can do – your husband is a block from the dry cleaners, he can pick up the clothes or your assistant can can tackle updating those reports. Scheduling appointments is something others can do with Setster!
  4. Ten minute tasks – These are those annoying little tasks like a quick email needing answered or filing papers.

Now, grab your Master List and some pens. Having a different color for each category makes things easier, but you may want to physically make four individual lists. Whatever you feel will work best for you is the correct method. This will eventually become second nature and you will find yourself assigning tasks automatically to one of these categories. You can also opt to use an online tool like Wunderlist, Todoist, or Remember the Milk. Now it is time to decide, delegate, delay or dig in.


First you need to determine whether you want to set time aside to take care of all the ten minute tasks at once or if you want to work on them between major projects or when you’re waiting in line somewhere. Next, look at your list of things that have to be done and arrange them according to priority. One of the biggest parts of successful productivity is knowing what projects hold the most importance.


Look at your list of things others can do and take ten to fifteen minutes to delegate these tasks to others. Call your spouse, have your office assistant set up the appointment scheduling program, and once delegated, put this list away.


The list of things that do not need done today is the easiest. File this list in your day planner where you can gain access to it readily but where it is not in sight to distract you.

Dig in

With the other three lists taken care of, your priority list should now be a manageable size.  You have already prioritized this list so start with the most pressing task and work on it until it is completed. Once done, move onto the next and continue this way through your list.

Dealing with Distractions

Distractions can be the biggest productivity breakers you face. Random phone call, co-workers or family that want to talk, checking email every time you hear the notification sound – all of these break your concentration flow and it takes a good fifteen minutes when they are over to regain your momentum. At this rate, four interruptions can translate into an hour of productivity time in addition to the time the interruption consumed. It takes persistence but eventually you can train both yourself and others to honor your work time.

*Turn off email notifications.  Schedule a time to read and answer emails and stick with it. There is rarely anything so pressing in an email that it can’t wait a couple of hours.

*Allow phone calls to go directly to voice mail. Turn off the phone’s ringer and check messages only between projects. You can make listening to messages one of the ten-minute tasks if you are afraid of missing something important.

*Develop a sign that indicates to others you are not to be bothered. A closed door with a “do not disturb sign”, a special time period where you refuse to visit or chat and will ignore requests or even literally going somewhere others won’t be around, can all work to get your message across. You may even consider setting a company policy that internal communication should be via email if not urgent.

Initiating this system takes effort at first, but seeing your daily productivity increase will convince you that it was time well-spent. Your to-do list will quickly become a done list. Do you have any tips that worked for you? Feel free to include them in the comment for all to benefit.


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