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How is Your “To Do List” Doing?

By Dr. Geri Markel On 

Managing Tasks and Time

“My “To do” list is too long.”

“I make a list, but never get everything done.”

“I start working on something, but never finish when I think I will.”

“I’m exhausted before I start, just thinking of all I have to do.”

Managing the “to do’s” of life can be a continual battle.  Reflecting the frustration of those who fight their never-ending lists of tasks, the American philosopher, Henry James said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of the uncompleted task.”

Categorizing Your List is Key

Too often, “To do” lists are too long and uncategorized.  All types of tasks, chores and goals may be listed together. Things that are wishful thinking are mixed in with those that are necessary to do. Short-term chores are mixed in with long-term projects. Work and personal responsibilities are mixed.

Although it feels productive after creating your list, without prioritizing and organizing tasks, you can feel overwhelmed and demoralized before you start. To start, it may be helpful to use different pages or note cards to separate out short- from long-term and work versus personal tasks.

In addition, other challenges may be present. For example, sometimes you may miscalculate how long a task will take. Other times, you procrastinate and then worry that you’ll never get the task done. Still other times, you slip into perfectionism and extend or redo a task that is already completed.

Ten Steps to Organize Your Tasks

Whatever the reason for not getting enough done, you benefit from using a systematic method to prioritize tasks and get more done. Here are 10 steps to help you increase the number of tasks you complete:

  1. Brainstorm your tasks. This is a brain dump to clear the clutter in your brain of all the tasks you need or feel you need to do. Are some long-term projects or daily chores?
  2. Review the list. Identify which are urgent or extremely important. For example, prioritized tasks include legal, financial or health actions. Most urgent tasks include signing your will, scheduling medical check ups, sending payments for rent or mortgage or insurance. To prioritize, use a scale from 1 to 5 (with 5 as the highest) or color code tasks to indicate the most important or urgent tasks.
  3. Guessimate the length of time it might take to complete the task. Project a range of times such as 15- to 30-minutes.
  4. Use a hard copy or computer-based daily or weekly calendar. For some, scrolling over days on a phone is tedious and distracting. A printout or screen with a week-at-a-glance provides a good perspective of your available times.
  5. Schedule times when you can work on each task. For difficult or tedious tasks, select time during which you are most alert and least stressed. Break down complicated tasks into to smaller tasks.
  6. Signal times to begin and end using a timer or phone alarm.
  7. Stop working when the timer rings.
  8. Write a check mark to indicate task completion. If the task is not completed, indicate how far you got and what barriers you confronted. Reflect about how you worked and conditions that helped or hindered you.
  9. Review your progress after a few days. Identify times and conditions under which you perform best. Are you satisfied?
  10. Ask questions such as, “Am I progressing? In what ways to I sabotage my time management efforts? Do I need some expert help?”

A step-by-step approach to task management helps reduce stress and increase your productivity. The most common problem with lists is their length and lack of prioritization. Once you classify the tasks according to importance or urgency, you have a way to schedule and complete them.


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