Arm yourself against... an endless to-do list

Does your to-do list at work feel never-ending, like you’re moving one step forward and two steps back?

Has your main goal become putting a line through those pesky tasks rather than trying to add as much value as possible?

If you answered yes to one or both questions, it’s time to take stock.

In fact, it’s time to ask yourself a further question: has your to-do list started controlling you, rather than the other way round?

And if the answer to that question is yes, read on to find out how to regain control.

endless to do list

It’s not about time. Everyone has the same amount of time. So why do some people often feel like they have none?

There’s doing and then there’s doing. But it’s human nature to deviate from the actual task and work on unrelated or unimportant tangents.

To continue researching when it’s time to stop and make a decision. To focus way too long on the easy stuff and ignore the difficult parts. To overinvest in the areas you like rather than the areas that need your attention.

Here’s a secret: very few people actually know when they’re procrastinating. That’s always something that other people do. 

But cutting out procrastinating is a surefire way to get more time back. Because efficient people don’t have more time than you.

They just don’t waste time.

It’s time for you to kill the word ‘finished.’ Life is messy and your to-do list is a constant companion, not an enemy to bat away.

As a society we’re pretty bad at handling noise. We want to shoo it away. We want a clean inbox. A tidy desk. A minimalist house.

This desire puts us into conflict with our to-do list, which is a living, breathing, constantly-shifting document that will never be empty of tasks.

To not put too fine a point on it, this is not a battle you will win. You cannot try to end every daily with a blank sheet of paper for a to-do list.

Not only is it exhausting, but it makes you a poor employee. You focus on getting things done, not getting them done properly.

So it’s time to accept that in life and at work you have a constant list of stuff to do. 

And this includes relaxation time and recuperation time. These are not things you do after the to-do list is done – they’re priorities on your to-do list.

Rejecting noise is a constant goal for you in the modern world. It’s filled with noise. It’s important to be able to cut out the not-important and focus on the important.

Your to-do list can sneakily become a memory replacement device rather than a curated list mapped to your role and responsibilities.

And yet your to-do list must be an actionable list of priorities. Not everything is a priority. But if your to-do list has no ranking built in, how will you prioritise on a daily basis?

The secret to being efficient is to spend more time on the valuable stuff and less time on the stuff that’s not valuable.

What are you doing that you could delegate? What are you doing now that could be done later? These are the types of questions you need to ask.

And let’s be clear: this is not just about work. You could spend every waking hour doing something. But as a human being you must prioritise what’s valuable.

Because you can’t do everything. And you’re not designed to.

When your to-do list feels overwhelming, are you thinking about your to-do list or your ability to meet it? It’s often more about you than your to-do list.

Overworked and overwhelmed are two very different things. But they feel similar.

Overworked means you have too many things to do at work in the time available. 

Overwhelmed says nothing about your workload and everything about how you feel. You can have only one task to do all year, but if it terrifies you, it’s likely you’re overwhelmed.

These require two very different approaches. If you’re overworked, you need to tell your manager immediately – it’s not good for you or the organisation.

If you’re overwhelmed, you need to focus on your coping mechanisms and your wellbeing as you have a great chance of improving these feelings if you focus.

Energy management at work is a good place to start.

Make sure you’re operating at the lowest level of your to-do list by breaking each task down into the smallest chunks.

Items on your to-do list should be actionable and they should be easy to start.

“Finish project” is not a good item for your morning brain to interpret and translate into immediate action.

So get granular. What is the next step you need to take to move on the project? Break your tasks into building blocks and do each one in turn.

If you do this, by definition you will get to the end of the project.

This also helps you to stop procrastinating because it’s much easier to ignore a large, abstract task than something smaller that’s super concrete.

It’s not rocket science – it’s just working smarter.

Since you’re protecting yourself against an endless to-do list, why not go the extra mile and protect yourself against burnout at work? It can affect anyone – at any time