Do you ever feel like you have more to do than you could possibly accomplish? Do you wish there were more hours in the day so you could just get something done? How would like to feel in control of your to-do list and in charge of your own life?
I am normally an organized and productive person. But when I get overwhelmed, I tend to shut down. When there are so many things on my to-do list, I get flustered and don’t even know where to start. It is almost like I am paralyzed by stress.
If you can relate to this, I have good news for you. By following a few simple steps, you can change that overwhelming list of tasks into a manageable prioritized list, leaving you relaxed and in control.
Get a piece of paper and write down every single task you want and/or need to accomplish. If you are anything like me, if it doesn’t get written down right away, it is likely to be forgotten. (That is one way to shorten your list, but it’s not the way to get it all done.) If there are big tasks, break them down into smaller pieces. The goal is to make each item manageable, so if a task still feels too big, dissect it into more steps.
STEP 2: Categorize the tasks.
Grab a few highlighters (or other colored pens). Choose one color to highlight the urgent tasks that need to be completed as soon as possible. Choose another color to mark the items that are most important to you. If some tasks are important and urgent, mark them with both colors. Use a third color to highlight any remaining items that need to be completed in the near future but not immediately. Some items will not yet be color-coded; these are the items that are not as important or as time-sensitive.
STEP 3: Prioritize each item.
Now is the time to rewrite the list in the order it should be tackled.
Look carefully at the tasks you marked. If any items were coded urgent and important, put them at the top of the list. Follow these with tasks that were either important or urgent, but not both. If one item is not as important or urgent as another task, list it below that task. If they are of equal importance or urgency, list them in the order of ease with which you could accomplish them. Then list the not-so-urgent items. For the items that were not color-coded, consider if they really need to make it on your list or if you can delete them altogether. If they need to remain on the list, put them at the bottom.
STEP 4: Make checkboxes.
Draw a checkbox next to each item, so you can check them off as you accomplish them. I am a firm believer that physically checking items off when they are completed is empowering and actually gives a little surge of endorphins fueling you to tackle the next task. (I am such a fan of checkboxes that I am known to write items down after accomplishing them just so I can check them off. Are you with me on that?)
STEP 5: Check them off.
Now that you know where to start, get moving. Tackle the first item on the list, check it off, and move on to the next task. You now have direction, so rather that being lost and overwhelmed, you can simply work your way down your list one item at a time.
Before long, you will see the number of items you have checked off, and you will likely wonder why you ever felt overwhelmed in the first place. Way to go! You tackled what seemed impossible and made it work.
If at any time, you start to feel overwhelmed again, take a step back. Re-examine your list, and see if you can break the larger tasks into smaller ones. Then do your best to only think about one item at a time. The rest of the list isn’t going anywhere, so forget about it for now. Put all your energy into the current task; it is the most urgent and important one, so give it all you’ve got. If you keep at it, you will find your momentum and be in control once again.
So here’s to highlighters and checkboxes. (Am I a total nerd if those two words get me excited…even if it is work?) These items, along with the five steps outlined above, can take you from feeling overwhelmed to being productive and in control.
What helps you make progress when faced with a seemingly endless list of tasks? Share your ideas in the comment section below.