You’re blurry-eyed and slack-jawed at your desk, staring at a to-do list so long you feel like you could wrap it around the entire earth—twice. Yes, we’ve all found ourselves in this stressful situation every now and then.
Facing a to-do list that feels completely unmanageable isn’t fun. In fact, it’s usually enough to make me want to curl up under my desk in the fetal position and hide until all of those pesky tasks dissolve away.
But, unfortunately, that tactic has yet to work out for me. So, I’ve had to find another method to deal with my mile-long list of assignments.
I’ve tried my fair share of productivity tips , tricks, and hacks that promise to help me grab the bull by the horns and conquer my to-do list with confidence and a healthy dose of strategy. However, I’ve found that most of those (although, not all!) really only manage to serve as a distraction and slow me down.
Instead, I prefer to keep things basic, simple, and intuitive. So, when looking at my overwhelming to-do list, I always ask myself this one quick and easy question to pare down my tasks and channel my focus:
Does this absolutely need to be done today?
I know, it’s so straightforward and obvious, you’re likely groaning and rolling your eyes at me right now. But, it’s actually an important inquiry that most people skip when creating their own lists. Humor me and allow me to dive in and explain why this question is so effective.
Why Does This Question Work?
If you’re anything like me (and most other people), your to-do list always starts with the best intentions. It’s a clear cut roster of the things you want to accomplish that day. But, then something happens—that “something” is called real life.
Things pop up throughout your workday that you know you need to write down before they completely fall out of your brain. And, where do you write them? On that pad of paper conveniently located right next to your computer—your to-do list.
Suddenly, your clean and helpful list is a cluttered, messy disaster. There’s a phone number for that person you need to call back in the upper right hand corner. You jotted down that confirmation number for that online purchase in the bottom margin. You quickly scribbled an idea for a long-term project—and now it’s mixed in with all of your more time-pressing action items.
You know how people assert that a clean workspace gives you a focused and clear mindset with which to tackle all of your work? Well, I’m a firm believer that your to-do list functions this exact same way.
So, take a look at everything you currently have jotted on your to-do list, and ask yourself that simple question, “Is this something that absolutely needs to get done today?” If the answer is no, off the list it goes.
This quick question will help you cut through the noise, prioritize, and craft a new to-do list that serves its purpose—keeping you focused on the tasks at hand, rather than causing you to feel even more frazzled, stressed, and buried.
So, What Do You Do With Everything Else?
That strategy makes sense, right? But, what do you do with everything that doesn’t get to land a coveted spot on your to-do list? You still want those reminders written down, after all.
This answer is painfully simple as well—put them on a different list.
Personally, I create my daily lists in a notebook. On one page, I write out all of those tasks that need to get accomplished. But I dedicate the following page in the notebook for reminders—those things that aren’t time-pressing or urgent, but I want to get down on paper somewhere. I still jot down crucial tidbits, while keeping my to-do list clutter-free.
The most important thing to remember is that you should reserve that precious to-do list real estate for only your day’s duties and tasks, and resist the urge to muck it up with everything else that crops up. That way, you can power through your work with clear focus and a determined mindset.
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