You know in the cartoons when a character gets a list of chores that they unroll to find it’s more than a mile long?
I know that’s supposed to be an assuming exaggeration, but too often, that’s the exact size of my to-do list!
As impossible as it seems, you CAN conquer your mile-long to-do list like a pro.
Here are 10 tips and tricks to help you out when you are overwhelmed by work.
The most important things on your to-do list should be done first.
I know, it sounds like common sense, but it’s something that we often forget in practice.
Instead of going through your list from top to bottom, decide on what things will be worth your time.
If there’s something that is really important for your business, you should spend time working on that first, even if it’s not the thing that has the earliest deadline.
Prioritizing will help you conquer your to-do list, but more importantly it will ensure that if you don’t get everything done, at least you will get the essential things done.
2. Eat The Frog
‘Eat the frog” is an anti-procrastination technique developed by author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy.
What he argues is that if you must eat a frog, it’s much better to do it quickly rather than sit there, staring at the frog and thinking about how awful it will taste.
The “frog” represents the thing on your to-do list that you really don’t want to do.
You should do those things FIRST — you should eat your frog.
Don’t put off the tasks you’re dreading — do them first so they aren’t hanging over you all day.
You will get so much more done when you eat the frog and do your worst tasks first!
Once you’ve done your most dreaded tasks, you’ll feel more accomplished AND you get to move onto the tasks you enjoy.
Plus, you have more energy at the beginning of the day anyway, so it’s better to do the smaller and more enjoyable things later.
3. Give Yourself Smaller Deadlines
I am most often overwhelmed with big projects that seem too big to complete.
To offset that feeling, try to break up your tasks into smaller pieces.
For example, if I have to write an online course, I wouldn’t try to do it all in one day! Instead, I would set smaller deadlines for completing individual sections.
The same goes for smaller projects. Ex: Write ½ of post. Break. Write ½ of post. Break. Edit post. Break. Create graphics. Finished!
Tasks feel more manageable when you have shorter deadlines to focus on.
You may have to write 5,000 words, but if you only have to write 1,000 TODAY, it feels less stressful!
4. Connect Negatives With Positives
Unlike others, I don’t recommend a “reward system” for completing tasks.
It doesn’t work for me because my “rewards” often get me out of the flow and cause me to lose focus.
Instead, I recommend adding something you enjoy to your work so that a negative and a positive are connected.
If there is a coffee shop you love, playlist you like listening to, or food you never let yourself eat, add that into your work routine when you must do tasks you hate.
For example, during finals week, I bought myself iced coffee (I LOVE iced coffee) when I had to study for my worst final. It worked! I was motivated to study for that class because I had connected the negative experience with a positive one in mind: studying for science final = drinking iced coffee.
With a typical “reward system,” people let themselves watch a TV show or have 5 minutes on their phone every few hours, but I don’t think this technique increases productivity.
Often, the time between rewards isn’t actually productive and the reward time is longer than the work time.
Instead, I recommend the connecting technique for creating a better mentality toward your work.
5. Stop Preparing Perfect Conditions
Every time I see pictures on Instagram of people’s artistic planners and perfectly laid out study spots, I think to myself, “how much of your time was spent on work v.s. trying to be aesthetic?”
I know, I want my to-do list to be pretty and my desk to my decorated, but it really won’t help me work any better.
Don’t get so engrossed in finding the perfect conditions to start doing work that you forget to actually start working!
Another tip that seems like common sense, but think about it for a second: How many times have you put off working by doing smaller tasks like cleaning the room or clearing out your email inbox or making the perfect cup of coffee?
Sure, they seem “productive,” but if they aren’t the most pressing things on your to-do list, they don’t matter.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ll work better once your papers are organized or your desktop looks nice — those things will only take time away from what you really need to get done.
6. Put Away Your Phone + Other Distractions
When you really need to crunch down on your to-do list, try putting your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and leaving it out of your reach.
It’ll still ring if someone on your favorite list calls (so if there’s a family emergency, your mom can still reach you), but you won’t receive notifications from Instagram or Twitter, etc.
While the phone seems like the No. 1 distraction for our generation, the same goes for anything else that distracts you.
If you live with your friends and you find yourself wanting to talk to them all the time, maybe you need to go to a coffee shop to work.
If you love looking at YouTube videos, then maybe you need to block the site when you have a lot of work to do.
I understand that some of you can’t eliminate distractions completely (hello working moms!), try to do what you can to prepare for them and therefore minimize their effect on your focus.
For example, having a designated “workplace” in your home can be helpful for your focus, as can having a regular schedule, like choosing to work during a child’s naptime.
7. Avoid Multitasking
My biggest temptation when trying to conquer a to-do list is to attempt multiple tasks at the same time. It doesn’t work people!
Studies have shown that your brain can’t pay attention to two tasks at once and won’t be able to store all the information required in your short-term memory.
Folding laundry while watching TV is one thing, but if you try to do two things that require your concentration, the tasks will take you longer and you’ll miss more.
8. Stop The Negative Self-Talk
When feeling overwhelmed, people tend to convince themselves they can’t do it.
One of the worst things you can do when you need to get things done is listen to yourself.
Stop telling yourself that you can’t complete the task and stop spending all your time panicking. That’s not going to be helpful!
Instead, take a deep breath and try to see things from a different perspective.
You’ve made it through challenges before and you can do it again.
You are capable of accomplishing the tasks before you.
It will get done. You will get it done.
9. Find A Rhythm
It really helps to have consistent flow when you’re going for maximum productivity.
Waking up and going to bed at the same time can do a lot for you.
I recommend taking a few days to figure out what times you are most productive during the day.
Keep in mind, it may not be the times that you think! Ex: Even though I like to stay up late, I get the most done in the morning.
Once you know what times work for you, you can create a schedule that helps you be more productive in your day.
10. Take Care Of Yourself
You will work better in the long-run if you take real meal breaks, drink water, get 8 hours of sleep and so on.
You may have a lot to do, but you can’t do anything at all if you’re not healthy.
Plus, you’re always going to work better when you are well-rested, hydrated and not hungry.
Now that you have 10 ways to become more productive, I hope you conquer that to-do list ASAP!
Here are the 10 tips again so you won’t forget:
- Eat the frog
- Give yourself smaller deadlines
- Connect negatives with positives
- Stop preparing perfect conditions
- Put away your phone
- Avoid multitasking
- Stop the self-talk
- Find a rhythm
- Take care of yourself
Are you a productive person who uses a few other strategies to get stuff done?
Comment on this post and share your wisdom with us! 🙂
Bethany Peterson is a junior at Wheaton College (IL) studying Interdisciplinary Studies and Journalism with a minor in Spanish. She has worked in blogging for three years first as a staff blogger for 31Women Ministries, and now as an intern with LadyBossBlogger. She serves as Co-Editor in Chief at the Wheaton Record and hopes to go into journalism after graduation.