Step-by-Step Success: A Game Plan for Tackling a Massive To-Do List

published Feb 18, 2016
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(Image credit: Monica Wang)

Faced with a growing list of important things that just need to get done… it can be a little overwhelming to say the least. What you need (besides a clone–natch!) is a fool-proof system for staying on top of your task list. There eight tips are here to help. Stick with these strategies and you’ll be able to make quick work of a long list, week after week.

Eat the Frog First

It’s a strange idiom, but here’s what it means: As you sit down each day to look at your to-do list, conquer the toughest job first thing. Once you’ve made it over the biggest peak, the rest of the day is an easy roll downhill.

Break Out Big Tasks

This is all about keeping yourself motivated. When you have a big job on the horizon, don’t write it down as one line item. Opt instead to break it out into smaller, more attainable tasks that you can check off more frequently.

Check Off Items As You Finish Them

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it: A to-do list is only helpful if you stay on top of it. Check in with your list a few times a day and mark off the things that you’ve savagely taken care of.

Write Everything Down

Don’t get cocky. You might think you’ll remember that tiny, almost insignifigant thing you need to do, but to be sure the task doesn’t slip your mind, write it down. Even if you just check it off a few minutes later.

Check In a Few Times a Day

Revisit your list a few times during the day to keep yourself on task. If you need to, set an alarm on your phone or a calendar appointment. Attendees: Me and my to-do list. Location: Right here, right now.

Stick Religiously to the 1 Minute Rule

The one-minute rule is this: If a task comes up mid-day and it would take less than a minute to do, then do it. (Answering an email usually falls into this department.) The idea is to keep your running to-do list from being littered with small tasks throughout the day.

Review at the End of the Day

When you’re done for the day–whether that means before you leave for your commute or right before bed–take one last look at your task list to make sure there aren’t any quick or deadline-driven tasks that you’ve forgotten. Then, identify tomorrow’s “frog”: The big, hairy goal you want to get done at the start of the next day.

Refresh Weekly

At the end of the previous week or the start of a new one, tear your to-do list out of your notebook (or delete it from your digital world) and start a brand new list on a new page (or with new pixels). This has two big benefits: You can remove crossed-out tasks and keep your list from getting visually cluttered, and you also get an opportunity to revisit every item as you re-write or re-type each one.