Have you ever had one of those weeks where everyone has wanted just one little thing from you? Your to do list explodes and you start to feel overwhelmed. I was in danger of this happening to me this week. In order to keep track of all of the tasks that need to be completed at some time in the future I write them down on my to do list so that the information is not forgotten. The problem with doing this however is that unless I am very careful about how I manage it, this same list can be the cause of a lot of anxiety.
It is not physically possible to complete everything on my list in one day or even in one week for that matter and it can be very demoralising to get to the end of the day with more items on the list than I started with in the morning.
So what do I do about it?
My work to do list lives on Evernote so that I can add to it on the go wherever I am. It also means that the list is easy to print out each day. Now I know that for some people, a digital list is all that they need, not so for me. I need to have a piece of paper to scribble last minute ideas upon, note down phone numbers and write down important new ideas. I find that if I go back to my Evernote while I am in the middle of a thought during the day I can get sidetracked while I am opening it and lose that information before I get to write it down.
When I am writing my list on Evernote, I do not waste any time prioritising it. I know that some people recommend this and I do have a system to determine which items are more important than others but for me, I don’t need to waste any mental energy on this when I write the list, I simply add things to the bottom or top as they come up.
At the beginning of my working day the first thing I do is print out my list. Inevitably it covers two pages but that’s OK, I know that I don’t need to get everything done today.
My next task is to prioritise the list. As I said before, there will be items on there about tasks that need to be completed much further into the future so I need to find a way of hiding them from my thoughts. Some people recommend rewriting your list every day but for me that’s simply a waste of time.
I read through each item on the list and identify those which need to be completed today by highlighting each with a yellow highlighter. I use yellow for a reason which will become clear later. I need to be careful not to overestimate the number of things I can achieve in the day and that is a skill which improves with time.
So what have I ended up with? I still have my very long list but now I have highlighted in yellow the tasks on it I believe I will have the time to complete by the end of my working day. Obviously over the course of the day, new tasks will appear and I simply write those somewhere on my list, highlighting them appropriately as required.
As I work through my list I overwrite each task in green highlighter as I complete it. This gives me a huge sense of satisfaction as I can see at a glance the number of things I have completed increasing and the number of things left to do steadily decreasing.
Now why do I use yellow and green? The green completely covers the yellow, does not change to a different colour when combined with it as some other colour combinations are inclined to do and provides a great visual record of work completed.
How does this method help me?
When I get to the end of my working day I am able to look at my to do list and feel a sense of satisfaction that I have accomplished something. I don’t look at all of the tasks left undone, these are not highlighted so I know that I never intended to do them today and I don’t feel any guilt about going home with them incomplete. I look at all of the things I have achieved and pat myself on the back for doing them.
Of course there will be days when even some of the yellow highlighted items will remain yellow despite my best efforts but that’s OK. Usually it’s because some other more pressing item came up during the day and I put my attention to that instead. The nice thing is that because I have written that other item on my sheet and have it highlighted I can see exactly where my time has gone.
The very last thing I do before I go home at the end of the day is to revisit my Evernote. Using my paper copy as a reference I go back and edit my initial note by deleting the items I have completed and typing on the new items I wrote down during the day. Again, I don’t waste any time putting them into any sort of priority order here, that’s a task for tomorrow morning.
Now this might seem a little extreme to some but it is the way that I manage my large workload without getting burnt out and it only takes a few minutes each day.