9 Smart Strategies for Conquering Your Growing To-Do List
You already know that a simple to-do list can help you keep track of all the stuff you need to accomplish, whether it’s sending a work email, finding more freelance work, or even paying rent. But let’s be real — seeing everything that needs your attention can be enough to send you into a total spiral. To help you increase your productivity, we chatted with several #girblosses about how they get stuff done without breaking into cold sweats. Scroll on for their super smart strategies.
1. Stay one day ahead. Setting aside things you can do tomorrow at the end of each day might be a great way to ease stress and make sure nothing slips out of sight. “I will write down my to-do list for the next day before I go to sleep. I will limit it to only three items, so I can just focus on those tasks,” says Nisha Garigarn, co-founder of Croissant. “For me, it’s better than stressing out over having a massive list of things to do, and I can get to work right away in the morning. It feels so good being able to check those off.”
Career and business coach Harper Spero agrees that planning just a day ahead can make a huge difference when it comes to easing your mind. “I won’t leave the office until I have a to-do list written, so when I get home I can actually sleep and not feel stressed by what I COULD have done. Also, every Friday I go through all my emails that I sent the previous week to see what needs following up the next week. Those follow-ups get written in my notebook before the weekend.” Love it!
2. Use an online tool. Whether you like pen and paper, a digital notepad, or something else, we’ve heard that using online tools and apps can totally help you ease stress and stay on track. “I use Airtable to organize all my projects, tasks, and due dates, says Rachna Govani from Foodstand. “Once everything is there, I only look at what’s due *today* so I’m not overwhelmed. I schedule most tasks into work blocks in my calendar so I stay on track too.” Sounds like a good mix of strategies to us.
3. Time your tasks. You might have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, which calls for timing your tasks and taking breaks. Haley Jude, creative director and producer for Moving Portraits, says, “This is great when my list is too long and everything feels *so* urgent.” Rather than letting her mind jump all over the place or falling into bad habits like procrastination, Jude uses timed tasks like a mindfulness practice. “My mind may wander, BUT I can keep bringing it back knowing I have to sit with this one thing for just 25 minutes.”
Lawer Shivani Honwad also swears by timing her tasks. “If I’m really struggling to start, I set a timer for 10 minutes. If at the end of 10 minutes I need a break, I’ll let myself take it. But I usually keep going!” It also helps her do something she’s dreading. “You really can do almost anything for 10 minutes,” she says.
4. Tackle the tough stuff ASAP. If you’re anything like us, your to-do list is where you keep track of everything from quick errands to time-intensive projects that require serious concentration. Sacha Dunn, the force behind Common Good, tells us she has made a habit of tackling the most challenging items first. “I do the big ticket items early in the day, before even checking my email,” she says. “As a secondary focus tactic, I also set my computer to ‘Do Not Disturb’ while I’m working so I don’t get distracted by new items floating in.”
Not sure you can channel Sacha’s intense focus early in the day? Principal attorney Aimee Haynes says that while she focuses on bigger tasks too, she mixes in a couple of easy things to give her motivation and balance. “I always add one or two ‘easy’ tasks to my to-do list because knocking one off right away makes me feel accomplished,” she says. “Alternatively, I take on a tough task and leave one of the easy ones so I know when I finish the tough one that I have something a little easier to work on.”
5. Set realistic deadlines. To-do lists can quickly become overwhelming. Arq founder Danya Shults says it’s important to be realistic with both what goes on the list and how fast it needs to get finished. “I never consider a to-do list complete until I plot out the to-dos in realistic time blocks on my calendar,” she says. Planning specific times for accomplishing each item “is a good exercise to figure out whether or not you actually can fit that amount of to-dos into the timeframe you have in mind, which helps with setting realistic deadlines.”
Speaker Jennifer Iannolo credits her calendar with keeping her honest and level-headed. “Honestly, if it’s not in my calendar, it doesn’t exist.” Iannolo’s tactics include blocking off time for very specific to-dos and clearly marking action items to be sure that everything is accounted for. “Go for workability so you can give a real ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to things people ask of you,” she advises. “Otherwise you’re kind of just pretending you’ve got it all handled.”
6. Prioritize ruthlessly. Start with the task that truly needs your attention. Veronica Horner from Maia Moda says, “For me, it’s all about prioritizing. I go through it at the beginning of the day and number each task by importance, which prevents me from automatically gravitating toward the easiest task (which may not be strategic).”
Erika Velazquez Alpern, CEO and founder of Tactile, says, “Once I have three big picture goals for the week, I bucket all of my tasks into how they affect each goal. If something doesn’t fit into a bucket, it falls to the bottom until the ones that do are complete.” This helps her distinguish important things from everything else, which is an idea we think will be super helpful.
7. Reward yourself. Marketing guru Nicole Cifani breaks down each end goal into smaller, manageable steps. After completing a step, Cifani treats herself to a yoga class or dessert to acknowledge her progress. “This helps me to build the momentum to more easily get to the next step,” she says.
8. Think about the big picture. Cara Thomas, founder of SERENFLIPITY, says that she stays inspired by connecting her smaller tasks to a big goal. “I start macro and then break it down day by day. So, I create a full-year biz plan for myself in January and plan every month based on the yearly outcomes I want to create.” Thinking about the big picture ensures that all tasks are geared toward the same goal, but Thomas says it also lets her have some fun and be creative. Our fave task: “Write a kick-ass first draft deck in a way that leaves me inspired and energized.”
9. Step away for a minute. Sometimes a girl’s gotta refocus and let go of scary feelings. Refocusing can come in many forms, like stepping away from the computer (something Kate Anderson of iFundWomen swears by) or spending time outdoors. “I’ve got lots of stress-busting tactics, but one of my favorites is gardening,” says Jude. “I’ll go dig in the dirt, pull weeds, water my plants, and come back clear-headed and with a fresh perspective. Sometimes taking a true break, getting outside, and moving your body does real wonders.”
How do you ease your to-do-list anxieties? Share your secrets with us on Twitter @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)