Why You Need to Simplify Your To Do List

Motivation, as I’ve mentioned before, is a cyclical thing; it has its natural ups and downs. There are times where you find yourself so intensely energized and highly focused on your goal that it’s impossible not to work at it with everything you’ve got in you, but then there are those times where you just can’t muster any enthusiasm for it all – days where you’ve got so many things on your To Do list that you could easily be kept busy with it for the next three years, but all you actually end up doing is staring dispiritedly at your list while stewing in feelings of frustration and guilt over the fact that you just can’t seem to make yourself even get started on any of it. When you’re in this situation, figuring out how to simplify your To Do list is going to go a long way to helping you regain that missing motivation so you can get back to getting things done and avoid the post-task-avoidance remorse you know you’re going to be steeped in otherwise.

To Do or not To Do; that is the question.

The first thing to try when your motivation has gone AWOL is to take a good hard look at that lengthy To Do list of yours, because that’s probably having a bigger impact on your ability to function than you realize. You’d think that being so organized that you have every single thing you suspect you’re going to need to do for the next three years itemized in a handy list would be a good thing (and in some ways it is), but what often happens when we’re in a motivational slump is that we’ve actually put too much on our plates; we have so much going on that our minds and bodies start to rebel.

When we try to do too much at once it has a tendency to sap our energy levels and leave us feeling completely scattered and drained. And neither of those is a good place to start from when we have dreams and goals to pursue; energy and focus are critical to maintaining our ability to keep up the action steps that are so necessary to making progress towards those dreams and goals. In order to be effective, we need to be able to concentrate on the task at hand, and we need to have the energy and enthusiasm to get it done; having too many things to accomplish all at once just short-circuits this process and leads to overwhelm and a system-wide shutdown — kind of like a breaker tripping to avoid overloading the circuits in a house.

One task to bring them all (back under control)

If you’re in this type of overwhelm situation, the best thing you can do is to simplify your To Do list in order to bring everything back under control. Keep that main list somewhere safe so you don’t lose any of the important stuff on it, but start breaking it down. Put your absolute priorities for the week on a separate, smaller list and see if that helps you regain your motivation to get stuff done. If not, you’re likely still in overwhelm mode, so break it down even further and pick one task – just one – to accomplish today and focus yourself completely on getting that done. It can be either the easiest one or the most important one, but it can only be one. Write this task down on a separate list and put all your other lists away where you can’t see them until you’ve dealt with this “One Task”.

My tip for the “One Task”: I’m a huge fan of sticky notes. I have different sizes that I use to help me bring my own To Do lists under control when I start feeling the overwhelm of having too many things that I need to get done. The main lists are on the bigger stickies and in my agenda, and my One Task for the day is written on a small, very colourful sticky that I can post near my computer to remind myself of what I’m supposed to be doing.

Focused = Finished

When you simplify your To Do list, you allow yourself to focus your energy and attention completely on one item, making it far more likely that you’ll actually get it done. When you’ve finished your One Task, you can go back to your main list and pick another single task to focus on completely (and put all others out of your mind). You just work through them one-by-one, without any thought or consideration for the other lists (yes, it is hard to not think about the other stuff, but it is doable), and what I’ve found is that, by narrowing my focus like this, I am able to get far more done in the time that I have available because the momentum builds up as I knock the single tasks back, one after the other. The energy that gets built up when I finish the first One Task charges me up for the next one, and so it goes. When I remember to use this process, I actually end up getting far more done during the day than I would have otherwise.

photo credit: pixabay.com cc
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