Has your To-Do List stopped working?

Have you been overloaded lately? Do you have so many things to do that your to-do list is overwhelming and paralyzing? Do you feel like you are working harder and getting less and less done?

I’m a master list maker. To the point that making to-do lists as a stress management tools has gotten out of hand into what I call stress listing.

Sometimes a to-do list strategy stops working and its time to pivot. When pivoting, we can shift our tasks, we can shift our expectations, and we can shift our strategy.

Shift your Tasks

We can shift our tasks using the Eisenhower matrix, or the 4D matrix. This helps you evaluate what’s urgent versus what’s truly important so you can shift from putting out fires to focused productivity. The 4Ds are Do, Decide, Delegate and Delete. Do Now what is important and urgent. Decide when to do what is important but not urgent. Delegate (or automate) what can be done by someone else or by a system or service. And Delete what isn’t important (in case you wonder where urgent and unimportant tasks go, they go here).

Shift your Expectations

We can shift our expectations by first evaluating spoons. Spoon theory helps you judge your physical, mental and emotional bandwidth. Each day you wake up with a limited amount of physical, mental and emotional energy or bandwidth, and what you do throughout the day spends that energy. The spoons needed by the tasks you need to do in a day can’t exceed the amount of spoons you have.

You need to manage your expectations of what you can reasonable do. To do this, it can be helpful to think of the expectations you have for someone you love. Imagine someone you care about is feeling how you feel today. How much would you want or expect them to push through right now? I bet you have different standards for yourself than you have for others. I bet you expect yourself to push through on limited resources while you would expect those you care about to take a step back, re-prioritize and make different decisions on what gets accomplished today.

Shift your Strategy

I’m generally a fan of themed to-do lists. I like to have a big picture to do list for work and a more detailed list for what needs done. I like my grocery list to be separate from other errands lists. I like family lists to be separate from work lists. As a stress-lister, this can mean I suddenly have more to-do lists than I can track, and there are many redundancies within them. When this happens, it can be really helpful to consolidate all of my lists into one major list. Yes. One. I know this can feel overwhelming, and like it is breaking down very deliberately created mental compartments.

This master to-do list integrates the different aspects or roles in your life in one place and allows you to do very targeted prioritization. When you prioritize this list, you can see how tasks stack up. Is this report more important than my kid’s soccer game? If it is, I need to make the conscious decision (and logistic arrangements) to miss the soccer game. If it is not, I need to make the conscious decision (and logistic arrangements) to complete the report at another time. A benefit of this conscious decision making (and subsequent planning) is it allows you to better focus on the task you are completing. It also means there is only one place you need to look. It will probably be a longer to-do list, but it is just one place you need to record, track and update information, rather than an elaborate system of multiple lists and redundancies.

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