How To Conquer Your To-Do List Like A CEO
If you’re already the kind of person who uses a to-do list on a daily or weekly basis, then you are already well on your way to success! Incorporating a to-do list into your routine is absolutely crucial for turning abstract goals into actionable tasks.
Studies have shown that most people can only hold about four things in their mind at a time. When we write tasks down, we free up space in our working memory and are able to fully focus on whatever activity we are trying to tackle.
Whether your list is written neatly, stored on your phone, or haphazardly scratched onto a fluorescent sticky note, I’m here to show you ways to make your to-do list work best for you.
Eating the frog vs. small tasks first.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to tackling a to-do list.
Some believe that getting easier tasks out of the way first thing in the morning will help get the ball rolling, especially when those tasks require less of a mental workout. This technique will likely resonate with those of us who are not at their peak mental state first thing in the morning.
Mark Twain once cleverly stated that “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”
Those who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, even before their first cup of coffee, will likely see better results “eating their frog” first thing in morning. In other words, if you accomplish the most difficult task first, the rest of your day will seem easy in comparison. This technique is particularly effective for chronic procrastinators as well.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
Once you experience the satisfaction of crossing something off your to-do list, you may be compelled to jam-pack it with tasks.
However, even the most motivated individual can easily become overwhelmed and discouraged when faced with a long list. There are only so many hours of the day, so prioritization is key. Try separating your list into three categories: “Today”, “This Week”, and “I’d be a Rockstar if I Got This Done”.
In your “Today” list, write down items that absolutely must be completed by the end of the day. These are the items that you should get your most energy. Ideally, you should be deep into your most complicated task by mid-morning, as research shows that our working memory, alertness, and concentration peak during this time (due to the gradual increase of temperature that occurs in our bodies after we wake up).
Your “This Week” list should include things that you need to complete by the end of the week. Try to put these in descending order from “tasks that will take the most time” to “tasks that will take the least time.” If you accomplish the tasks in order, you can ensure you have enough time to complete the longer tasks.
The third category, “I’d be a Rockstar if I Got This Done,” is helpful if you tend to be unrealistic with what you can truly manage (i.e. overachievers & workaholics). The items on this list are considered expendable and are allowed to be eliminated without guilt, or rescheduled for another time.
They are there for when you have extra time or are feeling especially gungho. This list should not include vague ideas of projects you’d like to do in the future, or tasks that aren’t actionable, like “heal relationship with estranged godmother.”
Focus on one task at a time.
Multitasking is somewhat of a human delusion. You may be able to switch very quickly from one task to another, but doing this actually drains your energy, leading to fewer accomplishments rather than more.
To work through your to-do list, work on one task at a time. Limit distractions by turning off notifications to text messages, Slack, and email pings. If it helps, isolate yourself in a room, or pop in some wireless headphones with calming music (ideally classical or ambient).
Leave yourself at a good stopping point.
Sometimes starting is the hardest part.
It’s easy to become so overwhelmed by a task that you simply avoid it altogether. The best time to prepare for tomorrow’s workday is today. End your workday by making a new to-do list for the next day.
Instead of beginning the next day with a completely empty Google doc, get yourself started by writing one or two sentences, or completing a quick brainstorm.
Create an undo list.
Mental clarity and motivation are the result of excellent self-care. If you are pushing yourself too hard, you will see your productivity decrease.
Make a list that is dedicated solely to de-stressing. This could involve putting aside time to simply “be” (meditating or taking a bath) or be mindful of things that you should to do less of (biting your nails or negative self-talk).
Organizing my goals into actionable steps has been one of the cornerstones of my success. It’s simply impossible to remember all of the things that need to get done (especially in a small business where one must wear many hats to be a successful team player).
I invite you to try out some of the things on this list and see how it improves your life and overall happiness! Oh, and let me know how that frog tastes. 🙂
Angela Pan is the Founder and CEO of Ashley Chloe, Inc., the parent company of brands Ashley Chloe and Rowkin. Established in 2014, Ashley Chloe is a fashion-focused technology company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Angela is a visionary leader and business woman who is passionate about creating lifestyle brands that will break the notion that technology and fashion must be separate categories. Read her interview on LadyBossBlogger here.