One most challenging aspects of learning something new is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what you don’t already know. Your to-do list is probably a mile long already. And if you’re like most people, you haven’t even made a dent in it. In fact, you’ve probably added a few additional items. Every day you fall further and further behind.
In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney state that the average person has 150 different tasks on his to-do list.
Think about your own. You have prospecting calls to make, proposals to write, emails to send and service issues to solve. Now, add all the new things you need to learn: new products, new markets, new pricing plans, new technology—the list goes on forever.
Then throw in the birthday card you need to send, the groceries you need to buy and the tax forms you need to submit.
Here’s what’s even more discouraging: Research shows the longer your to-do list, the less likely you are to get anything done. Overwhelm hits, and your head starts spinning. You become anxious that you won’t get it all done, and you can’t. It’s literally impossible.
Here are 3 strategies to keep you from having an unproductive day (and life):
1. Pick your top three priorities right away. Do this even before you check your email. Neuroscience tells us that prioritizing is one of the brain’s most taxing activities because it has to compare numerous items to one other and then decide. Even something as simple as checking emails will negatively impact your ability to prioritize.
Once you’ve settled on your priorities, sequence them and then get to work. Don’t jump from task to task. Do one item at a time.
2. Delete half the things on your to-do list. This may sound like heresy, but there’s sound research behind it. Everything on your list is fighting for your mental attention. Your brain is working behind the scenes on every little task, even if you aren’t aware of it. That means it’s becoming bogged down, which slows your overall productivity.
Worse yet, the things on your to-do list you really need to work on are the most likely not to get done. Why? Because you have an overwhelming urge to make a dent in that massive list, to reduce its size. This means you’ll tackle the easy stuff first so you feel as if you’re making progress.
When you take a hard look at your to-do list, you’ll discover some of the things on it are so low in priority that they may never get done. Chop, chop, chop. List ten things you’re going to eliminate from your to-do list right now. There—don’t you feel better already? Quit kidding yourself that they’re going to get done. Free up brainpower for more important things.
3. Create a done list. If you’re like me, facing a never-ending to-do list is very discouraging. And often, at the end of the day, I feel as if I’ve accomplished nothing. It’s not true, but that’s how I feel. For some odd reason, I think I’m superhuman and should be able to accomplish it all.
The feeling of making progress is what motivates people to keep on going. But I rarely stop to see just how far I’ve come and how much I’ve actually accomplished. In fact, many of the things I do aren’t even on my list. They arise out of nowhere, begging for my attention, so I do them. Instead of constantly chastising yourself, celebrate your accomplishments.
With these healthy to-do list habits, you’ll be ready to keep going and getting more of those important tasks done.
Sign up for The Lead and get a new tip in your inbox every day! More tips:
Jill Konrath is the author of SNAP Selling, Selling to Big Companies and Agile Selling. If you’re struggling to set up meetings, click here to get a free Prospecting Tool Kit.