2 steps to master your to-do list

To list, or not to list? 

Last week I pointed out that to-do lists can actually make us less productive. If you’re a compulsive list-maker like me, that’s pretty deflating.

On the one hand, you need some way to get the thousand ideas, projects and tasks floating around in your head into some sort of organizable format. A girl needs her clear mental feng shui, after all.

But on the other, you don’t want to feed a habit that makes you feel worse about yourself and reduces your performance, regardless of the dopamine goodness you get in the short-term.

Luckily, there’s a way to have it all. And it only involves two simple steps, both of which will make you happier in life and less overwhelmed if you just stick with them.


A quick caveat


These steps are deceptively simple. In reality, this might be one of the hardest things you’ll do. In fact, it’s what most of my clients struggle the most to implement.

Why? Because you have to reward yourself for the things that you do each day,even when you’re not sure you did enough.

And focusing on the positive doesn’t come naturally to us, as I also pointed out last week.

The good news is that this works. It gets you out of the future tense and into the actionable present in a manageable way.

Remember those days of coming across old lists with projects that still haven’t been accomplished? No longer your problem.


Making friends with your list

Ok, ready for the steps? Here they are:


1. Prioritize (aka whittle it waaay down):

So you’ve got 20 items on your list and you just know that today’s the day you’re going to knock them all out? I love the enthusiasm, but it’s a) probably unrealistic and b) certainly unsustainable.

Instead, prioritize your top 1 to 3 tasks. Do it at the end of the workday or the end of the workweek, so that when you start the day you can look and see exactly what’s ahead without getting consumed by everything else you coulda-woulda-shoulda been doing.

(You’ll probably still think of other to-dos. That’s ok. Quickly add them to your master list and forget about them. You can check out your master list at the end of the day – or week, if you have a more advanced practice – when you re-prioritize.

And if you find that some items linger on your list and never really become a priority? Say adiós. This is about slowing down and returning to the fundamentals, not accumulating mental clutter that weighs you down.)


2. Celebrate

Once you’ve completed your 1 – 3 tasks, reward yourself. You’ve accomplished what you set out to do and are proving you can count on yourself. If you keep this up, imagine the real progress you’ll have made in a year….

Curl up with a new book, meet a friend for a martini, splurge on a sitter for the kids or a dog walker for the furbaby … it doesn’t really matter how you choose to reward yourself. I like to set up small celebrations on the daily followed by something extra special at the end of the week.

You’re developing a positive feedback loop, and that will help you way more in the long run than whatever extra 3 or 5 or 10 things you might’ve done today.


This might happen…

In the beginning, don’t be surprised if you conveniently “forget” to celebrate, or if every bone in your body is lamenting the stupidity of the exercise given that you’ve ONLY done 3 things and there’s so much else you should be doing!!!

Don’t give up. It can take weeks to form a habit, and you need to get to the point where you’re on autopilot. After that you’re free to customize at will … maybe you’ll find that 5 tasks is your magic number, or 2.

What you’re looking for is consistency, the discipline to celebrate your progress, and the power (someday soon) to shake off overwhelm.


Here’s to becoming happier and freer on your journey,


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