Stop Putting So Much Stuff On Your To-Do List

Image source: Glenn Carstens-Peter

This guest post is by Camilla Kragius. Camilla is the founder of No More Hamster Wheel. She loves to teach people how to work smarter instead of harder, to start living and to excel their life. You can connect with her on Facebook.

When you use a to-do list, you know the feeling you get when you are unable to complete all of the items on it.

In some cases, your to-do list may even get longer during the day.

It’s time to change this approach.

How can we do this?

It’s time to make shorter to-do lists.

Crossing things off as you finish them gives you a great sense of accomplishment. And this is a good because we want to feel accomplished. The problem is not crossing things off.

Rather, the problem is the false sense of being productive by crossing something off.

Our society has made being productive synonymous with being busy. Working long hours or always doing something is viewed as if you’re being productive.

Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive.

Quite often, it’s the opposite. You’re busy, but you’re not productive. Busyness leads to the feeling of never having enough time to do the things you want to do. 

And that is really disheartening, right?

Are You Working On the Right Things?

To-do lists have become a dumping ground for anything and everything. While there is no doubt that getting things on paper (instead of holding it in your head) is a good thing, what seldom happens is any thought as to why these things are on your to-do list.

So start asking yourself why a task is on your to-do list. Then take it one step deeper by asking what purpose the task serves.

Is it an essential task that will make a difference in your life or is it what I call a stocking stuffer? A stocking stuffer is a task that keeps you busy, but it is not essential. A stocking stuffer only keeps you distracted from working on tasks that would move you forward both personally and professionally.

It’s Time For a Short, Focused To-Do List

I teach my clients to do what I call a brain dump. Instead of using their to-do list as their dumping ground, they actually create a specific place for it. Just dump everything there, and then use that as a base to create either a daily or a weekly to-do list.

Not just any to-do list…but one that is super short and focused.

Suddenly, each item on the to-do list has a purpose. Each item can be lined up in order of priority and can be scheduled to be done that day or that week.

What Gets Scheduled Gets Done

A huge reason why people don’t get everything done they set out to do (even if they have a short and focused to-do list) is because it’s not on their calendar.

We are masters at underestimating how long a task will take us. We only look at the list of to-do’s, and then it’s easy to think we can get those tasks done on a given day. But it’s only when we block out time on our calendar that we get a correct picture of what can be accomplished.

I’m challenging you right now to take your to-do list and try to fit it in on your calendar. Between life, meetings, errands and everything else that needs to be taken care of, my guess is that your to-do list is a bit overambitious.

This is why putting your to-do’s on your calendar is so effective. It gives you a visual view of your day and what you realistically can accomplish. This approach also forces you to prioritize better.

  • How important is that task if it means you won’t have time to go exercise?
  • How important is that task if crossing it off requires skipping lunch?
  • How important is that task if it will only make you more tired and unfocused (because you’re already exhausted)?
  • How important is that task if it requires staying up late and not getting enough sleep?
  • How important is that task if it cuts into quality time with friends and family?

Feeling accomplished by crossing things off of a list is great, but if it comes at the cost of missing out on important parts of life, how is that an accomplishment?

It takes a shift in mindset to start working in a productive way, instead of a busy way. Give yourself time to enjoy life. In many cases, this approach requires going against what society has told us. It means that others may think you’re lazy because you’re not as “busy” as they are.  

It’s time to change your thinking. It’s time to work on the things that are truly important to you. It’s time to be productive…not busy. It’s time to get rid of that long to-do list.