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  • Stop Letting Your To Do List Stress You Out

    stressful to-do listA lot of stress comes from our long to do lists. The longer the list, the more stress you feel. Crossing things off the list not only makes you more productive, it frees up energy that you’d otherwise be using to dread doing all the things on your list. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You have a list of things that you really want or need to get done and as you cross each thing off the list, you feel lighter and freer.

    The list is fairly easy to tackle when you actually want to do those things.

    But when your list is a bunch of things you HAVE to do, but don’t want to, it’s not so easy. Sure, you want them to BE done, but you don’t want to DO them yourself. So… you procrastinate. The more you procrastinate, the worse you feel and the less you want to do them. The longer you drag your feet the worse the experience will be but still you put it off. Maybe you pick a few of the smaller, less unpleasant tasks off the list but the big ones still loom.

    From Procrastination to Productivity

    For many  years I had an accountability partner. At the beginning of the week we’d send each other the list of things we were going to get done that week and at the end of the week we reported back that (hopefully) we’d completed everything. Anything left undone had to be explained to the satisfaction of the other. That in and of itself was a great motivator.

    But even that wasn’t enough for some tasks. Even though we are both highly motivated individuals, we each had tasks that we had a hard time completing. In those cases, we gave each other encouragement and suggestions and eventually managed to get even the hardest task done with a little help from our partner.

    What I found during that time is that no one approach works all the time. It depends on the task that I’m putting off and why I’m putting it off. I’m sure it’s the same with you.

    So here are a few of the ways I’ve found to get through my to do lists:

    • Get an accountability partner – This works best if you’re working toward a specific goal and hate having to admit you failed to do something.
    • Prioritize your list – Prioritize it in the way that makes the most sense for that particular list
      • Prioritize the list in order of importance – work your way down the list until it’s complete
      • Prioritize by due date – Give each item a due date and prioritize according to that
      • Prioritize the list by what bothers you the most – I like to use this one when I have a bunch of cleaning, tidying, or organizing to do so I can clean/organize the mess/area that rankles me the most sooner rather than later.
      • Prioritize by risk – I like to use this for items the city will cite and fine us for if we don’t do them in a timely manner, like mow when it’s 95 degrees or shovel the sidewalk when it’s 10 below. It can also be used for tasks your boss or significant other is most likely to yell at you for if you don’t do them
      • Prioritize by best practice – Some things are best done in a certain order; prioritize by that
      • Prioritize by size – do the biggest or most complicated task first, work your way down to the smallest
      • Prioritize by level of revulsion – Do the thing you’re dreading most first and the others will be cake in comparison
    • Make time to do the big things – Sometimes you have to go into your calendar and block time off to take care of a big task. If you don’t plan time for the big things, they’ll never get done. It might mean taking PTO, or even taking some time off without pay if you’re self-employed, but you’ll feel immensely better once the onerous task is done.
    • Plan how you’ll pay for the expensive things – You can’t just wait to fix the sagging porch roof until you magically have the money, you have to plan how you’re going to pay for it… Unless you want to see what your porch looks like with the roof in pieces all over it.
    • Break the big tasks down into smaller tasks – Now you can tick each of the smaller tasks off your list more quickly and easily than you could the big one.
    • Delegate – Do all of these things have to be done by you alone? If not, create a sublist of tasks that someone else can do, then delegate them.
    • Change the way you think about your list – Language is important. For instance, I no longer have a to do list, it’s now a priorities list… cleaning priorities, marketing priorities, repair priorities, etc. That small change in wording alone helped me feel less bogged down by my list because I was owning it instead of feeling like it was put upon me, even if I was the one who put it upon me.

    That’s it. It’s pretty simple once you work out the system or systems that work best for you. I’m sure there are a lot of other ways to reduce the stress associated with getting through your to do list, so if you have one let me know in the comments below.

    Oh yeah, don’t forget to share… you know the drill.