Do you ever find yourself with a to-do list five miles long and absolutely no motivation to get started? You’re not alone! To-do lists are the third certainty in an uncertain world—right next to death and taxes. No matter how much you get done, there always seems to be more to do.
Type-A people are energized by the challenge of accomplishment, but an equally large portion of the population struggles to get stuff done. If you’re a member of the latter crowd, you might be frustrated by a mounting to-do list, unsure of where to begin. Here are four reasons you aren’t getting stuff done—and how to fix them!
1. The urgent is taking over the important.
Putting out fires is great, but not if you’re ignoring the forest fire! Little tasks and impulsive to-dos are good things that distract us from what’s most important. Most of the time, what appears to be “urgent” can actually wait. Before jumping from one task to another, ask yourself: “Is this really an emergency or can I finish what I’m doing? Is there something more important that needs to be done first?”
If “urgent” tasks frequently sidetrack you, take each evening to outline five important things to do the next day. If all you do is those five, your day will be a success! All pressing matters that don’t fit into the five items on your list must be done after those important tasks.
2. You’re distracted by multitasking.
Multitasking is disguised as efficiency, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Doing many things at once is one of the surest ways to slow down what you accomplish in a given day. Some of the tasks we try to do aren’t tasks at all, but simply “harmless” distractions that eat up five minutes at a time. Things like checking your phone while working on email and making a phone call might seem easy enough, but this removes focus and efficiency from the tasks at hand.
To become faster and more productive, shut off your phone at designated times throughout the day. Schedule your breaks instead of taking them on a whim, and focus on only one task at a time.
3. You have either too much time or too little.
While many of us feel like we don’t have enough time in the day, we all have the same amount of hours. Sometimes having too much time is as bad as too little. With eight hours in a standard workday, it’s tempting to waste 15 minutes here and there in “productive procrastination,” putting off the tasks that really matter because there’s plenty of time until they’re due. But how efficient are you when you only have one hour to get something done? The pressure of time can increase focus and productivity. Instead of working for a deadline, try timing yourself. For 25 minutes, work solely on one project. When the timer goes off, take a short break or eat a snack. Then set another timer to finish the task or start a new one.
4. You don’t know where to begin.
Long to-do lists can be daunting. Having 15 items makes you want to give up before you even begin. As previously mentioned, start by trimming your list to only five things each day. Place those five things in the order you want to accomplish them. If you focus best in the morning, choose the most intellectual task for that time period. If you need to get moving at noon, go to the gym on your lunch break. Cater your list to your personality.
Once you get started, the momentum will build and the accomplishment you feel will keep you going until the end of the day. Before you know it, the list will be checked off and you’ll be prepared to face another day!