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We’re all guilty of it. We feel like were going to have a productive day (or not) so we write up a huge list of all the things we want to get done. We start tackling our tasks but right after we finish the first thing we become overwhelmed, anxious, and then we begin to lose hope. Some of us give up; some begin doing a half–ass job; and some power through. But how do we create a list so that we actually feel motivated? How do we power through? How do we create a list that actually gets done? In this post I’ll show you the technique I use based off of the ideas from David Allen’s Book “Getting Things Done”.

If you’re too lazy to read I’ve included the sheet I’ve created and use here.

Essentially the way we’re going to approach this is to tackle to-do lists from a pragmatic and psychological perspective. I’m going to make it easy for you so you don’t have to download an app, learn any new skills it will be based on everything you already do. So in the book David Allen’s GTD process he created a 5-Step algorithm (Collect, Process, Organize, Review and Do). But from my experience it might be too many steps to follow through and remember, so I’m going to show you what I do and my attempt at an organized system. And to make it easy for you to remember I’m also going to break it down into three steps (The Rule of Three). So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started:

Step 1: Identify the Noise

I’m sure that like most of you we end up having lists on your: phone, computer, email, sticky notes, books, agendas, random scraps of paper and you get the point (We have lists EVERYWHERE). While this is good to clear your mind of all your thoughts and task this is NOT the final step! Doing it like this will cause havoc, disorganization and in the end will usually cause you stress.

So while stress is not good, I’m still not recommending you to keep things in the back of your mind. Because if you choose to ignore or try to memorize a task it will end up consuming too much mental real estate. So I’m saying that writing a list of things that occupy your mind is still a good idea. But the problem with the approach that most of you are doing now, is that it becomes too noisy. All that you have done is taken the things that were in your mind and recreated a visual version of your mind clutter in the physical world.

IdentifyTheNoise

So the first step that you should do is capture and collect all the noise. Do what you’ve already been doing with one exception. Write everything down in ONE PLACE. Buy a lined book and just dump everything in your brain onto one page.

Doing this will allow you to clear your mind of all the things big or small that need to get done. Psychologically this will lower your stress and clear up some mental ram so that you will have more will power to do the things that you want to get done. So as an example these are the list of things I came up with that are taking up my mind.

Tasks
Pay of utilitiesCreate client proposalMeet with Potential ClientWrite a blog postPay of tuitionBudget trip to NYCExercisePay of credit card billBook Doctors Appointment

Step 2: Group and Prioritize

Since I’m sure you’ve done this multiple times before and you probably want to just begin tackling the list right away to feel productive that is not the smartest way to approach this situation. As Abraham Lincoln’s quote goes “If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 4 hours sharpening my axe” so what I’m saying is sharpen your axe first! So before we start hacking away at our long list like a tree with a dull axe, lets smarten up.

We can break down this hectic list of our brain dump into priorities and categories. Everyone will prioritize differently but the approach that I take are: what are things that are time sensitive, then look at are what are the things that take the most amount of mental energy (Do these tasks in the morning so you feel fresh and ready to tackle your tasks) and identify task that can be completed quickly. So in my work sheet beside the first list you can use to columns to prioritize and organize. You can use my system or create a new one that you understand to organize your thoughts.

GroupnPrioritize

Break your list down into categories (Time Sensitive [TS], Mental Energy [ME] and Quick Tasks [QT]) and then prioritize. This ordered list can act as a scheduled for your day.

Task Category Order
Pay of utilities

Create client proposal

Meet with Potential Client

Write a blog post

Pay off tuition

Budget trip to NYC

Exercise

Pay of credit card bill

Book Doctors Appointment

 

QT, TS

ME, TS

ME

ME

QT, TS

ME

ME

QT, TS

QT

2

5

6

8

3

9

1

4

7

 

Once you have identified the types of tasks you have and their priorities, this allows you to create a simpler second list. An example of my second list is shown below:

Prioritized Tasks
1.     Exercise
2.     Pay of Utilities
3.     Pay of Tuition
4.     Pay of Credit Card Bills
5.     Create Client Proposal
6.     Meet with Potential Client
7.     Book Doctors Appointment
8.     Write a Blog Post
9.     Budget Trip to NYC

Step 3: Group, Cut and Attack

Now that you have an organized and prioritized list it becomes a lot easier to think of how you’d like to approach your day. But like I said most likely there is no way that you are going to accomplish all of these tasks so to pshyclogicaly prevent yourself from feeling like you failed or becoming overwhelmed we are going to group or cut down them down into bite sized tasks. And that size is three!

Now you may be thinking three tasks? That’s nothing, there’s no possible way that I can feel productive by just completing three things. And you may be right but the way that I approach it is to select the three most important things to me and when you complete those tasks I feel on top of the world even though it is only three tasks.

So most of the times you’ll be able to determine what tasks you personally feel should be your top three but if you have some trouble I have a process that I use. The way that I cut down the tasks is I look at the prioritized list and question the tasks. David Allen says to: toss it, tickle it or file it but in all honesty I feel those phrases are a bit difficult to remember and understand what they mean. So my approach to determine what task are a big priority is checking if it fits these 3 options.

Delegate it – If you can find someone that you trust to complete the task I recommend doing so, so that you can clear up sometime and tackle other tasks that you want to get done

Delay it – If you know there is no possible way of you completing a task don’t stress out about it, save it for another day when you know you’ll have time and get it done then. *This is dangerous though so be aware of what you are delaying. I try to max myself out at 3 rolled over tasks a day. If you find you are delaying a task day after day its time to just do it when you think of it (The 5 Second Rule) or else you’re left with the last option.

Drop it – I mean if it’s been delayed day after the day it makes sense to just drop the task. If you are not getting it done that means it isn’t a big priority and is just taking up visual space on your list and causing you stress. Drop it and if it shows up again you know that you have to give it a bigger priority and follow the 5 second rule.

So now that you’ve identified your top three task that you want to get completed I suggest rephrasing your task to become a S.M.A.R.T. goal and that way you have an ability to determine the measurability of your tasks. An example of my cut down 3 tasks of the day is shown below:

 

Top Three Tasks of the Day
1.     Go for a 30 minute run and do a full-body workout
2.     Pay of all my bills (Utilities, Tuition, Credit Card)
3.     Present an organized proposal for client with a clear call-to-action

Once you have your three tasks of the day your left with one thing… GET STARTED!

CutnAttack

Use your first and second list to identify similar tasks that can be grouped together. If you can choose your top three tasks you want to get done, PERFECT. If not, cut down your tasks by doing one of the 3 D’s (Delegate, Delay or Drop). Rephrase your tasks into S.M.A.R.T. goals. Now choose 3 goals and start tackling them!

Thanks for reading my post. If you thought it was helpful or not leave a comment and let me know what you think below. I’ve attached all the resources I have with my to-do list process below:

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