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How to Get Started When Your To-Do List Seems Too Long

We’ve all been there, alternating between procrastinating and feeling desperate because our to-do list seems so long and the tasks on it so complicated, not realising that while we’re wasting time worrying about our to-do list, all time-saving hacks are being thrown out the window.

When you have a long to-do list it’s easy to feel like there’s no way to make progress.  At times like this, we might feel like quitting.  What’s the point, anyway?  The car is too dirty, the laundry pile is now an insurmountable laundry mountain, and the dog is only going to go out and roll in the mud the minute we bath it.

In an article about tackling the to-do list, the author quotes procrastination researcher Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa. referring to procrastination over a to-do list as the “Procrastination Field.” Pychyl suggests that people often make themselves feel even worse by circling around a to-do list, noting that it’s common for people to busy themselves with other low-priority work in order to avoid the more important tasks on the list.

The good news is that there are some tricks to help you master even the longest and most imposing to-do list:

how to conquer your to-do list

How to conquer your to-do list

Start Small

It seems obvious, but we often forget the advice to start small when big projects like decluttering a house, hang over our head and crowd out the small, easy-to-accomplish tasks.  Get the quickest tasks together and do them first: making quick phone calls, firing off a few emails, or paying some bills online.  Accomplishing a few line items will give you a sense of control and make you feel capable of taking on the harder tasks.

Make it Fun to Get Things Done

Find a way to list your to-do items that gives you a satisfying way to remove them from the list.  Whether it’s digitally checking a box and watching an item disappear from your phone screen, or using a fun marker to fill in a box in your journal, or simply drawing a line through a task on paper, you’ll find yourself getting tasks done with an extra spring in your step if you know a satisfying experience awaits you.

Stop Re-Planning and Re-Listing

On that note, you probably have a to-do list already, either on paper or on your phone or computer.  It’s tempting to just keep making more and more lists and plans rather than just starting in on your tasks.  If this seems to be your problem, put your notebook or phone aside, turn on some music, and start tackling tasks one by one.  Tell yourself that you will not write one more word about what you have to do or your plans to do it until some tasks have been completed.  Then, after you’ve begun to take on your list, reward yourself by making a “You Did It!” list, where you may only write down tasks you’ve accomplished.  Later on, you can check the “You Did It!” list against the to-do list (or lists) you put aside to see what still needs doing.

to do list too long

Picture Yourself at the Finish Line

It may seem silly to do the exercise of picturing yourself having accomplished all your tasks, but think about it this way: when you think of the list as impossible, you’re already picturing yourself not getting everything done.  Now, imagine the opposite.  You have accomplished your list.  The dog is clean, the car de-cluttered and the bills are paid, the laundry is folded, and you are luxuriating on the couch.  Silence the inner voice that says this vision is unattainable and focus on your desire to attain it.

Decide Where You Stand With Deadlines

Some of us find deadlines motivating.  If this is true for you, self-imposing a reasonable but challenging deadline in our day-to-day lives can make it easier to push through our work.  All we have to do is remember not to be too hard on ourselves if we miss one of our self-imposed deadlines and keep moving forward.  For the rest of us, deadlines are more of a source of anxiety, rather than motivation.  If deadlines make you anxious, steer clear and just complete tasks in order of urgency.

Take the Delays In Stride

You were all set to have a productive day working from home, but your first phone call took too long, or the store you needed to stop at was closed, and your productive day has come to a halt.  Turn to another task and start afresh, leaving the delay behind you.  A task might have gone slowly, but you don’t need to slow down because of it.

Take Small Chunks Out of Big Tasks

My last tip is much like the first but on a micro-level.  If you have a large project on your to-do list, take a small piece out of it. Once you start a project, it seems more doable than when it was just an oncoming challenge on the horizon.  Starting a big project gives you a better sense of the magnitude of the task, and helps you plan how you’re going to continue and finish it.

With these tips to conquer your to-do list, you’ll be an unstoppable force!  Your to-do list is no match for you.  Now, stop procrastinating and take on your list!


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How to get started when your to do list is so long

Eva Lewis