Have an ever growing to-do list? Even worse, have a list of 1/2 completed items so it feels like you’ve accomplished nothing? I feel you.
There’s a lot I could write on why your to-do list is never ending and what you could do instead that would add more meaning to your life. That dialogue is for a different day because today it’s about the times in our life when we need to roll up our sleeves and get sh*t done. Set aside the purpose, the passion, the fulfillment you desire – right now you need to clear your mind, desktop or sometimes laundry bin so you can see and think clearly again.
Here are three methods I use and when I use them based on what I’m experiencing at the moment.
When I can’t decide which item(s) to prioritize…
When it feels like I am a day behind or a dollar short no matter what I do, I rely on the Eisenhower Matrix. In fact, I have it sharpied (not sure that is a word, but I used a permanent marker to draw it) on the last page of my Rocketbook notebook so that it’s ready for when panic mode sets in. Don’t know what a Rocketbook is? It’s a reusable notebook that connects to your email, shared drive or other digital locations so you can save your written notes digitally and save the planet by not wasting paper. (No, I don’t get a kickback, but I bet if I asked they’d give me an affiliate link…it just hasn’t been deemed important or urgent enough.)
When it feels like everything is on fire, it’s time to get brutal with tagging things as important and urgent. Using a matrix style allows you to organize in a way that’s easy to tackle. For those items that are truly Important and Urgent – do those now. For the items that are Important but not quite Urgent (yet), schedule a time to do them before they turn into Urgent items. Seriously, schedule them. Put a time block on your calendar that has the to do item on it (see the Pomodoro Technique for these).
For items that are Urgent but not Important, who can accomplish these tasks just as well, if not better, than you? This is not pushing off things you don’t want to do, it’s empowering others who have the skill and interest to do these tasks. This topic reminds me of defining your Zone of Brilliance/Genius and also recognizing others zone.
For those items that are neither Important nor Urgent, they go in the bottom right corner. If you’re not comfortable Deleting them, perhaps consider labeling that section “Delay” where it gives you permission to set them aside until they become a little more important (the Test Method will also give you a different way of managing these items).
One note: I don’t make four equal squares for my matrix. I have learned when I don’t get ALL of my to do list accomplished, it leaves me feeling depleted. My rule: 3 Important + Urgent tasks is my goal for a single day’s work. I focus on quality not quantity and if I am realistic about the Decide and Delegate sections, even more gets accomplished.
When there’s half completed items on my list…
We’ve all been there. Perhaps it’s due to S.O.S. (Shiny Object Syndrome) or F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) or as Brené Brown and Michael Bungay Stanier discuss, the S.T.W.S. (Save The World Syndrome). Whatever the reason, we start and stop tasks creating a wack-a-mole experience for our day without feeling like we accomplished anything. When this happens (like today…and my first pomodoro was to write this post), I use the Pomodoro Technique.
I don’t have one of those old school pomodoro (or tomato in English) timers, so I borrowed (ok, stole) a 30-minute hourglass timer from my daughters. I place it on my computer to remind me to stay focused. The day before, I take a moment to determine if I need to do this for the morning (6 tasks) or if I need to block off the full day (14 tasks).
*You must be just as committed to the 5 minute and 25 minute breaks as you are to the pomodoros or this method will succumb to burnout.
When I presented this method to a CEO leadership cohort I lead, I was asked how to fend off others who will break your concentration. My solution: tell them what you’re doing. Let them in on your secret. You are going to have a “focus” day and you will have 3 breaks at X times. When you share your intentions with your colleagues and employees, you might even find some accountability partners who also want to take back their days from their to do lists!
If you need to have a meeting during a focus day, schedule it for a 25-minute pomodoro. Realistically, this means no more than 3 topics on the meeting’s agenda (7 minutes each + time for wrap up). If there’s more items to discuss, schedule two pomodoros separately – or – save it for another day. Bonus: this requires others to be intentional with your meeting time.
Here’s what your day might look like using the pomodoro technique:
When I long for a daily rhythm…
After using the Eisenhower Matrix and Pomodoro Technique for several months, I noticed I no longer felt panicked or overwhelmed and I was getting work done efficiently. I wondered how I could maintain this calm and productive experience. I couldn’t find anything after a quick Google search, so I used another tool: my brain. I created the T.E.S.T. Method. It stands for Today, Everyday, Schedule, Think About. There’s no link for it because I made it up.
As I mentioned earlier, 3 tasks is my daily goal to feel accomplished at the end of each day. I have found I often cross off items on the “Schedule” list early when I’m in a grove. Confession: this is sharpied in my Rocketbook too. Here’s the setup:
- TODAY: What 3 items need to be accomplished today?
- EVERYDAY: What 3 items need to be completed every day consistently?
- SCHEDULE: What 5 items are on deck for this week, but not necessarily today?
- THINK ABOUT: What items are on your mind, but haven’t yet formed into action? (this is for those items you hesitated to Delete in the Eisenhower Matrix).
With a little Eisenhower work, you will have a good idea what is important + urgent and what can be scheduled. Remember, this method is when you’re ready for a rhythm. When you notice chaos or panic creeping in, go back to the Eisenhower or Pomodoro options to bring you back to calm.
Note: during the week, what’s in “schedule” will get moved to “today” as you plan your daily list. There’s also room for “pop ups” each day as you have 15 slots for the week in the “today” square, yet start with 8 each Monday (3 in Today and 5 in Schedule). Here’s what mine looked like yesterday (because today is for the Pomodoro Technique):
- Email clients for Group Cohort session next week
- Email all students welcoming them to the first week of class
- Pay Tax Bill
- The Miracle Morning (if you don’t know, go here – it’s life changing)
- Check all 3 email inboxes (hustle life!)
- Check University Canvas and Mental Wellness Coach portal
- Monthly Blog Post
- Pack 1 box per day (home renovations are happening)
- Create social media posts for the month
- Clean out inbox from holiday break
- Word of the year for 2022
- Vacation Schedule for 2022
- New rug for the living room
I hope these tools will provide the solutions you need to get back in control of your time! If you’re ready to talk about that passion, purpose and fulfillment I glossed over at the beginning of this post, let’s chat!