Get Organized and Focus on the Important Things on Your List

Focus on the Important Things on Your List

Whether you keep a running tally in your head, scratch out ideas on bits of paper, or itemize tasks in a notebook, we all wrestle with our to-do lists. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with interruptions, yet we are always reminded of what we could be or should be doing. The mantra these days seems to be about balance, but inevitably that goes out the window since one area of your life is likely to be topsy turvy one week and calmer the next. The dog needs surgery, the kids get sick, the bathroom pipes leaked into the dining room. It’s called life, and it’s always throwing you for a loop. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the “coulda,” “woulda,” and “shoulda,” but with a few ideas, it’s not that hard to get organized and tame this beast.

Sarah on “keeping your sights set on the big picture”

“You know those Russian wooden dolls that you open, only to find smaller versions inside? Well, that’s kind of how I approach tackling my to-do list – in many different layers. Each January, I create a “big picture” master list, which details my professional and personal goals for the year. Then, each week, typically on Sunday evening, I hold what I like to call a “mini strategy session” for myself. First, I grab my one sheet with my annual goals and I remind myself of the big picture. Then I look at my laundry list of to-do’s that I jot down as they occur to me in a big spiral notebook and identify the four to six things on that list that I absolutely, positively must do that week to move the needle on my big picture goals. I then actually go into my calendar and schedule specific key tasks into my calendar for the week. That way I won’t get sidetracked by a phone call or email, because when it’s an “appointment,” I turn off distractions so I can focus.”

Alicia on “keeping all the balls in the air”

“At any given time, I have three or four different notepads with varying to-do lists. I keep a running list in no particular order on those pads of everything I need to do at home, at work, and for me personally. Lately I’ve added a fourth to keep track of all the things I need to stay on top of for my ailing mother. The purpose of the master list is to make sure that as soon as a to-do task pops in my head I can transfer it to a place that it won’t get “lost” or forgotten. Then, on a day-to-day basis I work from a much shorter list. Each morning I grab all of my big pads, review everything on all of the lists, and then jot down my absolute priorities on my Buttoned Up NothingElse.pad. This allows me to focus my attention on the most important tasks from each area of my life that must get done that day. While some experts say to start with the hardest or least fun, I prefer to begin with something I am good at and enjoy. I usually get the ball rolling by jumping on sales calls. While some might put this at the bottom of their list, I love making that personal connection.”

Here are a few organizaitonal tips to help you tackle your to do list.

1. Know What Really Matters to You.

Use the 80/20 rule and separate out what you have to do from just ordinary to-do’s. It so is easy to confuse urgency with importance. Putting out fires can take a lot of time and energy and distract you from your end goals. If you don’t see a task coordinating with your larger goals, put it aside and focus on the things that will get you where you want to be.

2. Make A Reasonable List.

Anyone can put together a list with a zillion bullets, but don’t put together a daily to do list that sets you up for failure. Limit yourself to no more than 10 items per day. Even if you have 30 things to do, figure out which 20 can wait until next week, next month, or even next year, and tackle the 10 that are most important right now.

3. Schedule Your Time & Turn Off.

Make yourself accountable for getting your tasks completed by scheduling them into your calendar. If you block out time to accomplish certain tasks, you’re more likely to get them done. Then, turn off and tune out. Nobody can get something done with interruptions from the phone, email, Tweets, etc.

4. Pat Yourself on the Back.

Reward yourself with a tally of completed tasks from the previous week. Before you start your list for the coming week, try making a list of things you did, big or small, that make you feel proud last week. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing things completed. It motivates you to keep going.