When Your To-Do List Is Doing You In

I am an unfocused mess. Riding out this cold hasn’t been too bad, thankfully, and I’m grateful to the legions of you who sent me awesome immune boosting advice. Today’s problem lies with work. I feel dwarfed by the size of my to-do list. It’s towering over me and every time I try to take a stab at it, I fall down one rabbit hole or the other and I feel like my brain is all over the place. How do I make the most of my limited time and work effectively and efficiently?

Comment away below and send your own tips and suggestions. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to slow it down while I make a list of the usual tactics that work to help me tackle my to-do list.

1. Make Lists – There’s something kind of magical about prying my fingers off the keyboard and kickin’ it old school with a pen and a notebook to make lists. These lists can range in topic – everything from things that are worrying me to items that I need to round out my wardrobe. Right now, my focus is on making money, so it would make sense to create a list of any money-making opportunities I can identify, ranking them in order of the most immediate possibilities.

2. Make More Lists – Once I’ve done some analog list making, I take it over to technology and create project-based to-do lists to get me closer to the goals I’ve set up in exercise number one. Right now we’re experimenting with Asana, which I’m not yet familiar with. Better add that to my to-do list.

3. Lay Off the Sugar – I can’t focus if I’ve been eating poorly. I feel like my eyes are rolling around in my head like Cookie Monster. It’s total scatterbrained mayhem. Today a box of Timbits made an appearance, and now it’s game over. Maybe I need to work it out on the treadmill downstairs and try to salvage what’s left of these working hours.

4. Make a Got-Done List – Do you ever feel like the day has completely run away with you and you’ve accomplished nothing at all? Chances are, you’ve done a lot more than you realize. End your work day with fifteen minutes to spare and make a list of all the things you actually got done today. Don’t rely on an app or software that just strikes these items off and sends them to oblivion, you need an actual mental picture of what you were able to accomplish. If the app you’re using doesn’t do that, just scrawl this out on a piece of paper.

5. Track Your Time – I have no less than three work projects on the go every time I sit down at my desk. I like working this way, but it can be hard to stay on top of things without a little discipline. Last month, I was in the habit of tracking exactly how much time I devoted to each project using Toggl. The simple discipline of having to switch the timer on and off helped to keep my focus on the task at hand. It was also very useful to see which projects were taking up most of my time. Still don’t believe that this tool is awesome? Check out this review from The Freelance Effect.

6. Change Your Environment – Sometimes it’s utterly hopeless to try to accomplish anything in a quiet room. The silence feels oppressive, and I get bored of staring at the wall in front of me. These are the moments where I move to the local cafe or library for bit more stimulation, and suddenly everything switches gears and I feel way more productive. If you can change your work space, try this whenever you feel stuck. If you can’t physically leave, try popping in a pair of ear buds and listening to music. You can even find playlists on places like Songza that have the added background sound effects of a cafe.

7. Get Physical – Get up, take a walk, have a run, do some stretching. Sometimes getting the blood flowing will recharge you just enough to tackle your mountain of tasks with renewed vigor. As the weather gets warmer, get outside for some fresh air. Take at least 15 minutes to get your body moving any way you can.

8. Hydrate – How often do you forget to drink water? I’m so guilty of this one. Even as I type this, I’m so parched I can feel my lips cracking. My brain is probably refusing to focus on work because it can feel my body slowly dying of thirst. Do as I’m about to do. Stand up, have a stretch, and get a big ass glass of life-sustaining awesomeness.

Phew. I already feel like I have a better sense of direction! Hopefully this little list has helped you get focused too. Don’t be shy about leaving your own best practices in the comments section below, we can always use some new tricks and tools.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 Comment

  1. April 16, 2015 / 2:47 pm

    As someone who struggles with the same thing you are describing here (which makes sense since I’m your brother lol) here is the advice I can offer as it relates to what you’ve wrote, and as a partial addendum. I’ve been focusing on this exact issue a LOT for the last three months and have made tremendous strides lately. In no particular order:

    1. For me, pen and paper lists don’t work as I never remember to have them on me. I use Evernote to create check box style lists daily, and divide each list into three categories. Things that HAVE to get done. Things that SHOULD get done. And things I’d like to do. They vary in order of importance, obviously. I don’t know what Asana is, but I use Evernote for other areas of my life and I have it on all my devices so its very very handy. Every time I check a box, no matter how small the task, it feels like a little victory. These are important to me and add up daily.

    2. Every single facet of my performance in all regards begins and ends with what I eat and I take this very very seriously. Optimum mental function for me is DIRECTLY tied to optimal nutrition and it took me years to resolve this. So no, I don’t want to go out for dinner, to whoever is asking, because you and I aren’t the same and it affects me differently and I don’t like it. If you can’t get on board with that, write me off. So be it.

    3. In relation to the above, cut negativity out of your life, mainly people.

    4. I give myself at least 1 hour per day when my cell phone is not in my possession, and 2 hours per day when its on me but doesn’t ring and doesn’t vibrate. I also have a ‘no screens in bed’ rule. Once my phone is on the charger and I’ve told Siri what time to wake me up, that’s it. I’m done for that day with screens. Then I read, reading a good old fashion worded collection of pulp is free melatonin.

    5. I end every single day with extensive foam rolling to release toxins and prep my body for sleep and the next day. I can’t begin to explain to you how this has changed my life. Its like going to bed with a chiropractor AND a masseuse every night but you get all the pillows to yourself.

    6. Sleep well. This to me is directly tied to my levels of physical exertion through the day.

    7. As per what you said, I spend the last moments before tucking myself in reflecting on what I DID get done that day, not worrying about what I didn’t. Sometimes this exercise is important sometimes it isn’t. I do this looking at myself in the mirror in the bathroom, and I tell myself I love me. This is an exercise taken directly from Jack Canfield’s The Principals of Success.

    8. I visualize how the next day is going to go. I literally picture myself making food, training at the gym, cycling, getting work done, folding laundry… then I wake up and everything I visualized just seems to be automatic. It’s eerie.

    9. This one is new, and big for me. I’m learning to take advantage of bursts of energy and creativity. Yesterday I was in a flow state and wrote four new articles/post for my own website, and did two other outlines. It is often a struggle for me to create content. So I set them up on a publishing schedule on WordPress and wouldn’t you know it, a new article went up at 9am today. And another will go up at the same time tomorrow. And again on Monday. Imagine that.