Reduce Stress by Making Lists

Making lists in order to relieve some of your stress might seem so obvious and sooo last century, yet lists can be one of your better time-management tools. Try working with three lists:

  • A master to-do list. This list is your source list, detailing all the tasks and involvements that you want to accomplish. This is your primary list.

  • A will-do-today list. This list details how you want to spend your time today.

  • A will-do-later list. This list enables you to schedule tasks in the coming days or weeks.

All these lists work together, providing you with a comprehensive time-management plan.

Here are some suggestions and ideas to keep in mind as you put your daily lists together. Remember, not every idea works equally well for everybody. Give each suggestion some thought and give it a fair try. Ultimately you’ll put together your own unique time-management ideas that best match your style and personality.

  • Don’t overdo it. Don’t make your to-do list so long that it becomes unwieldy. Watch the number of tasks you stick on that list.

  • Don’t schedule the “guaranteed to happen” stuff. Don’t include tasks you know for certain you’ll be doing. These tasks happen without my prompting and don’t require any special motivation or pre-planning. These are usually not time wasters. Again, come up with a daily plan that works best for you.

  • Do the important tasks first. Starting a new year, a new week, or even a new day often fills us with resolve. We begin our days with a higher level of motivation and determination. It probably makes sense to schedule the tougher, less desirable tasks first thing in your day.

  • Pick a more difficult high-priority task first. Commit to staying with that task long enough to finish it or make a significant amount of progress.

  • Be flexible with priorities. When you write down your daily tasks, don’t feel compelled to fill your day with all Level 1 items (the most difficult tasks). They are important and should have a place on your daily calendar.

  • But don’t be compulsive. Plan your day knowing yourself and what will work best for you. For some, doing a challenging, difficult task first thing makes sense; for others, later in the day might work better. You can mix it up a bit, juggling the difficult tasks with the easier ones.

  • Identify your best work times. You may be a morning person. You may be a night owl. The hours right after lunch may be your least-effective working hours. Try to match your more-difficult, higher-priority tasks with your more-productive working times. Save easier tasks for times when you feel less motivated.

  • Don’t over-commit. Recognize that you may be less efficient than you expect to be. Be realistic. Be reasonable. If you do it all and have time to do more, that’s great.

  • Break bigger tasks into smaller pieces. If you’re intimidated by the time it may take to do a major or complex task, break it up into smaller pieces and focus on one piece. It’s hard to start a task that seems overwhelming. Create smaller chunks. For example:

    • Clean up the house → Clean the kitchen

    • Write the chapter → Write the outline

    • Pay all the bills → Pay the high-priority bills

  • Schedule breaks. Recognize that a break between tasks can give you a breather and even act as a reward for your impressive effort. These few minutes can be used to catch up on e-mail, make some social calls, text a friend — whatever. You can also take a quick walk, do some stretches, or do a relaxation exercise.

  • Do the “quickies” quickly. During breaks or other down times, you may be able to knock off some easy tasks fairly quickly. Just do it. Anything that you’ve given a “Q” ranking (meaning it can be done in less than five minutes), do right away. Get it off your list.

  • Group similar tasks together. Save yourself a great deal of time by doing similar tasks at the same time. Grouping tasks is much more efficient and much less stressful. You can, for example:

    • Pay all your bills at the same time. Designate a time to go through the bills, write the checks, address the envelopes, and mail them.

    • Combine your errands. Rather than running to the store for every little item, group errands together. Keep a “Things We Need or Will Need Soon” list in a handy place and refer to your list before you dash out for that single item.

    • An even simpler way to do this is to photocopy a master list with the common items you usually need to replace and stick it on the fridge. Check off a needed item when you notice that you’re running low. When you’ve checked off a bunch of items on the list, head to the store.

  • Indicate outcome. When something is completed, either cross it off your list or make a “done” comment in your outcome column. If you don’t get around to starting or finishing something, make a note about when you plan to complete the task.

  • Update your master list. What you don’t accomplish by the end of the day should be reassessed the next day. It stays on your master list until it’s done or you deem it unimportant.

  • Use the 80/20 rule. Apply the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, to your time-management analysis. Simply put, it states: Of the things you have to do, doing 20 percent of the most-valued tasks will provide you with 80 percent of the satisfaction you may have gotten by doing them all.

  • In other words, skipping your lower-priority items doesn’t really cost you a whole lot in the long run. Don’t get fixated on those less-valued, less-productive activities. Ask yourself, “Would it really be so awful if I didn’t do this task?”

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