My Top 10 Tips for Tackling To-Dos in 2019
Riding the wave of new year's resolutions, I decided to throw one out there for myself - MAKE FRIENDS WITH MY TO-DO LIST. I'm going to try relate to it more as a helpful friend than a scary monster. This got me thinking on the essentials of GETTING STUFF DONE. Here's what I've learned along the way about transforming to-do list items to DONE.
#1 - PAUSE TO PLAN
Separate planning time from action time.
That way, when you start your allotted action time, you can get stuck in right away. Do the evaluating and decision-making before-hand, preferably when you are calm and alert. Planning means pausing for a moment to take stock. Ideally, every morning before work, or every night before bed for the following day. Take 5-10 minutes to open your calendar (which should have all appointments connected to time already in there - once off and recurring). Alongside it, open your to-do list. With this visual picture of your day, decide which to-do list items you want to tackle that day and slot them in.
#2 - "TOP 5" TASKS
I am a big fan of the digital sticky note – I take my top 3-5 things from my to-do list – the things I need to get done that day, and put them on a digital sticky note that sits on my homepage of my phone. This serves two purposes - Firstly, this keeps them in mind through the day, even without going into my list. And secondly, it prevents overwhelm because I don't have to keep looking at my super long master list.
# 3 - TANGIBLE MASTER TO-DO LIST
Have ONE master to do list, do not rely on your head, it’s a very unreliable hard drive, especially when stressed. It's your decision whether you use a digital app to manage your list, or good old-fashioned pen and paper. There is no one magic method. The best method is the one you actually use. But stick with something for a few months before trying another system. Give it time for the habit to stick.
# 4 - GETTING STARTED
A tip for getting started when a task is big and overwhelming:Break it down into little steps. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Ask yourself, what’s the tiniest first step I need to do to get started? Something so small that you won’t feel the need to procrastinate it. Sit in your office chair? Good, next tiniest step – turn on your laptop. Next, open the document. Usually, by the 4th step you are into the flow of things and will keep going. Starting is the hardest part - it takes 70% of the fuel to launch a rocket ship and after that its just cruising.
#5 - PRIME THE ENGAGEMENT PUMP
Use one of these 4 "brain hacks"to stay engaged with a task when there is no inherent passion involved: challenge, interest, novelty and value. So when you can’t seem to get something done, ask yourself – a) Challenge -How can I add a challenge element? Put on a timer and try to “beat the clock”? Create my own deadline like inviting company over to get me to clean up? I heard about someone who takes her laptop into her car, sits there to work and challenges herself to get the work done before her laptop battery dies. b) How can you make the task more interesting? Do it together with someone? Listen to music or a podcast while doing it? c) Novelty - this means changing things up a bit. Working in a different environment, like a coffee shop. Using a different color font or pen. Working at a different time of day. What micro-changes can be added for variety? d) And finally, with value, how can you try to connect the task to an underlying value, to something that’s important to you? Ask yourself, “what are the benefits of getting this done? And what do those benefits get or allow for me?” But don’t stop there. The final step is to create a tangible reminder of the value – if the value is peace of mind, stick up a picture of a calm and peaceful place. If getting it done will benefit your family, have a picture of them on your desktop.
#6 - SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Anticipate temptations before they occur. Turn off pop up notifications on your screen and notifications on your phone. The only way you should actually know you have a Whats-app message or Facebook comment or email, is if you go into the app – No red dots on the screen, no bells or whistles and no notifications on you status bar. We don't want anything enticing us into quick dopamine hits.
#7 - THE DISTRACTION DOWNLOAD METHOD
While working on your intended task, have a piece of paper by your side as you work. Every time a distracting thought pops into your head, download it on the paper and take 1 minute to evaluate if it is both urgent and important enough to pull you off task. If not, turn back to your intended task, safe in the knowledge that you have captured the distracting thought, you won’t forget it. And when you’re done, you can add it to your master list.
#8 - KEEP TRACK OF TIME VISUALLY
To keep track of time while you are working on something, have an analog watch or clock in front of you, so you can actually see the passing of time. Or better yet, use the Time Timer app. It visually shows you how much time has passed and how much time you have left.
#9 - LET GO OF THE MULTI-TASKING MYTH
Neuroscience has proven that it is not actually possible to do two things simultaneously. It's more of a stop start process that drains our energy. Every time we switch tasks, when we go back to the original task, we need rebooting time. So we end up doing both tasks slower.
#10 - EFFECTIVE ENDING
My final tip is about how to end a task you’re having trouble moving away from. Two words - ditch perfectionism. Many people suffer from perfectionist thinking – the task has to either be perfect, or there's no use doing it at all. But I encourage people to think in terms of the grey in between the black of having nothing done and the white of having it done perfectly. Don’t let perfect be the standard you are going to use to know when to stop. Instead, give yourself a time limit or another quantifiable limit – you will stop after a certain number or words of after you’ve checked out a certain number of options, consulted a certain number of sources. Perfect isn’t quantifiable or realistic.
Ok, so there you have it. Now let's get out there into 2019 and tackle our to-do's!