I start every day by making a new to-do list. It keeps me organized, on task, and accountable. It also keeps me from forgetting to take care of minor details like picking my son up from basketball practice or paying my taxes.
Because I write everything down, my to-do lists can get really, really, really long—so long at times that there's absolutely no way any human being could possibly complete one in a single day. This used to leave me feeling inadequate and discouraged. Then I figured out a few ways I could trim my list and boost my sense of accomplishment. Here's how I did it—and how you can too.
1. Play the waiting game: While it may be true that all of the items on your list need to get done, I'll bet there are some that don't need to get done today.
For each item on my list, I ask myself whether or not there would be a negative consequence If I didn't get it accomplished by the end of the day. For example, having the strange sound my car is making checked out could be a matter of life or death, but folding the laundry, not so much. By moving those items that can wait off my list, I am able focus on the tasks that are truly urgent. As for items that don't make the cut, I remember the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."
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2. Use a stunt double. If there's anything on your to-do list that could be done by someone other than you, delegate.
I'm a recovering control freak, so it wasn't easy for me to get the hang of this one, but believe me, once I started allowing others to pitch in, I got through the list a lot faster. I've recruited my kids, husband, friends, and neighbors to lend a hand. I'm sure there have been times when you've helped others, so don't feel bad about letting people return the favor. If you really can't bring yourself to ask anybody, there are still ways you can shorten your list. I use a mobile pet groomer and a dry cleaner who delivers, and I order items I need regularly (like dog food and paper towels) online.
3. Keep your eye on the prize. Don't let your inner Martha Stewart throw you off your game. If your goal is to get things done, then sometimes it won't all get done perfectly.
Spend time on the things that give you the greatest cost-return benefit. For example, I will go the extra mile to make a nice dinner for my family so we can sit down and enjoy that time together at the end of the day. I will not, on the other hand, iron pillowcases, boxer shorts, or jeans. In fact, I go out of my way not to buy things that need to be ironed, and therefore ironing rarely finds its way onto my to-do list. Nobody goes to their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time with their iron.