You’ve seen it before. Every checkmark only leaves two more unfinished tasks. Your to-do list has become an living organism, spawning more and more work while leaving you less and less time to finish. Is it possible to stop your to-do list, or will it just become an unstoppable blob of extra work?
Your best weapon against the rising tide of to-do is dedicating a day to destroying that list. Instead of wandering around, attacking various projects before putting them down, you go for the kill. Set up a massive to-do list and wipe it clean.
Few things are more satisfying than after a day of ending your to-do list. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Clear your schedule. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you give yourself a large chunk of time. A to-do ending day can’t be filled with all the regular errands of your life. The entire day needs to be focused on killing that list, so pick a day where you can have complete control over your time. Wake up early. Building momentum is critical. Even if waking up at 5 am isn’t a usual event for you, it can be helpful here. Which do you think will give you the right start: dragging yourself out of bed at ten o’clock, or forcing yourself to start moving at six? Collect your to-do list. If you have tasks and projects scattered over different parts of your life, you need to collect them into one list. One list detailing everything you want to have accomplished, on one piece of paper you can hold in front of you. Know the end. What does being finished look like? Every task should have a clear goal and purpose beyond just getting done. You can spend an entire day attacking your to-do list and accomplishing nothing if you aren’t clear on the final picture. Put hard tasks first. Pick your biggest and most difficult tasks and start on them first. Putting off the hard work is a sure sign it won’t get done. By putting the difficult tasks first, you also build a momentum that allows you to focus easily. Isolate yourself. Lock yourself in a room, unplug your phone and internet if you have to. Anything to ensure that interruptions won’t break your focus. A few hours of complete focus can accomplish what would take several days of multitasking. Set your rest breaks. Working continuously for several hours can be difficult to do with mentally straining work, especially if you aren’t used to it. My suggestion is to set short, but meaningful breaks in advance so you won’t be tempted to procrastinate. Match breaks with tasks, not time. Your breaks should match up with the large to-do chunks on your list, not at a specific time. If you plan to finish a report you expect to take ninety minutes, finish it in one chunk. Taking a break while working on a major task will only break your flow. Be patient when accelerating. It can take time to build up speed. When I write an article, it can take me up to fifteen minutes to get a clear idea on what I want to write. During this build-up time, the temptation is to quit or move on to something easier. Avoid that temptation and be patient. Give yourself meaningful rewards. If you finish your to-do list, take a break. Go out and have fun, watch a television show, meet up with friends or just stare blankly at a wall. Feeling the urge to be completely productive 24/7 is an easy way to ensure you never do. Does it need to be done? Cross off any items that lack long-term importance. Purify your to-do list so it only contains tasks that will be significant months and years from now. If your to-do list doesn’t seem important, it probably isn’t. Energize your diet. Engineer your food and exercise routine to give you the energy you need throughout the day. Eat lighter foods and avoid simple carbohydrates (which spike your blood glucose and then drop it). Drink plenty of water and eat smaller meals more frequently. Your goal is to create a diet that will keep your fuel levels even throughout the day. To exercise or not to exercise? Exercise is definitely a good idea. But whether you should bother heading to the gym on an intense project attacking day depends. I would say that a quick run can give you enough added energy to make up for the time loss. But if your exercise is long and prescheduled, you might want to leave it out to focus completely on your to-do list. Collect resources ahead of time. The night before you plan your epic battle against your to-do, prepare. Make sure you have all the right tools, information and resources to get the job done. Nothing feels worse than a half-finished list because you needed to wait on information from a third party. Chunk, don’t spread. Don’t spread tasks over all your waking hours like butter on toast. Intensity trumps time-management. Get as much done as possible and give yourself large chunks for both work and play. Spreading yourself too thin results in only a half-effort. A half-day is often enough. The surprising thing about creating a to-do list day is, that if you do it right, it takes far less time than you expected. I’m usually impressed that I can accomplish my entire list by the late afternoon when I follow these suggestions.
Scott Young is a university student who writes about productivity, habits and self-improvement. Scott has been featured on the Be Happy Dammit! Show.