What it takes to finish a to-do list
How to curb overambition and get the load right.
Many of us have a to-do list overload issue.
When I was younger, I use to aspire to be like the people on TV — always busy with life things happening around them. As I sit on the brink of 30, I mourn for my simpler days and wondered how it all culminated in three pages of things to do.
Bad things happen if you’re not watchful or diligent with your list. Your life starts to fall wayside and things get put off over and over again.
Somedays, life just won’t have it your way. You end up throwing your hands up in the air as the paralysis of too many things to do sets in.
If your to-do list is not working for you, you need to change something about it. You don’t have to live and die by your current list.
Too many tasks, not enough mental space
It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll do it later.
But the thing with this is that most of the time, you’ve got other things going on. The task will just keep slipping down the ranks until it piles up like the gunk at the bottom of a pool that hasn’t been cleaned in a while.
An overcrowded to-do list can create an unnecessary mental load. It’s heavy and it’s tiring. If you leave it long enough, the little uncompleted tasks can morph into giant unwanted weeds. The annoying thing about weeds is that it can spread and spawn more tasks that end up taking more energy and time to get rid of the original task.
So what can you do about it?
Slash and burn
Slash and burn sounds exactly like how it looks. All you need is your pen (or mouse) and a ruthless approach towards your to-do list.
Look at each task and in Kon Mari style, decide if it’s going to bring you joy in the future. If not, get rid of it. If it will, determine the scale of this happiness.
If it’s only a marginal thing, you don’t need it on your list.
Strike it out. Delete it from your list. If it won’t make you happy, you don’t need to keep it out of obligation.
The point here is to reduce your task into a compact version that is much more manageable for you to figure out and schedule a time for.
To further reduce your list, complete the easier and smaller tasks first. When you’ve lived with an overgrown todo list for a long time, you’re going to need that emotional boost and sense of traction.
Fix your systems
To-do lists often turn into gloopy chaos pools when your system doesn’t support the effective and efficient completion of the task.
The ability to properly finish things is determined by the preparation as much as the execution. Or perhaps a task keeps popping into your to-do list because the task itself is not supported by a system that prevents it from happening.
Systems can be preventative as much as it is facilitative to the culling of your to-do list.
For example, if your workspace keeps falling into disarray and the task of cleaning often pops up on your to-do list, there may be something else that you can do to prevent it from taking you 30 minutes each day to sort out your impending chaos.
If there’s a way to eliminate the re-accruing task or reduce it, why not do it?
Learn to sprint
In the dev world, sprints and Kanban boards are our special to-do lists — except it’s structured differently.
A sprint is essentially a small timeframe to complete a certain set of tasks. If there are too many tasks, the excess is removed and put into the equivalent of a holding area. You don’t look at the items in this holding area until the beginning of the next sprint.
The holding area is like a secondary list — except you don’t have to mentally deal with it until it’s time to pick and choose from it.
During the sprint, you pick a task, identify any roadblocks, work on unclogging those things first and then work exclusively on it. When you put your entire focus on a single task, it helps you complete it faster and better.
The enemy of sprinting is spreading yourself too thinly.
We often overestimate our ability to do things and become defeated by our own egos.
Do one thing at a time and steadily reduce your list until your task is completed. Once that’s completed, go back to your holding area and select the most impacting tasks from that list and start working on it.
There are some things you can’t avoid — like chores and taking care of yourself. It’s easy to drop or not have these things on the to-do list at all, at the detriment to your mental health and general sanity. However, these things can be automated, you just need to set it all up to run and service your needs.
A manageable to-do list is determined by your ability to identify what’s most important and immediate to you.
Being busy due to an overgrown to-do list is often a disguise for disorganization and spreading yourself too thinly over tasks that may not matter in the end.