Work

How to strategically tackle a to-do list

You have way too much to get done. You’re staring at your to-do list with wide eyes and a mix of panic and horror. In fact, you’re wondering if you can even justify calling this thing a “list” anymore—it looks more like a novel.

We’ve all been there. Being faced with a lengthy list of tasks is enough to inspire a quick pulse, frantic breathing and plenty of nail biting. But, no matter how overwhelming it might feel, you know you need to take a deep breath, get down to business and start crossing things off.

If you’re smart, you’ll want to do that in a way that’s strategic and methodical rather than frantically trying to scribble your way through the entire thing. Here are four quick tips to help you collect your thoughts and tackle that list in a way that boosts both your productivity and efficiency.

1. Eliminate clutter

When you already feel buried under assignments and information, it’s helpful to clear your head and focus on the tasks at hand. Needless to say, your to-do list needs to reflect that same mentality.

So start a new list that details only the things you actually need to get done. Wave goodbye to that phone number for the dentist you should call back and the idea for that project you’re excited to start on next month. You need to cut through the noise and pare down your list to only the things that require your immediate attention.

That way, a quick glance at your list will clearly illustrate where you should be channeling your energy, rather than clouding your thoughts and causing you to feel even more frazzled.

2. Determine deadlines

When your to-do list is stuffed to the gills, it can be tempting to power through all of the small, easy tasks first. At least you’re crossing some things off, right?

However, do your best to resist this urge, and prioritize based on deadlines. Once you’ve eliminated all of the unnecessary items from your list, it’s time to grab a highlighter. Go through and highlight only the tasks that absolutely need to get done that day. Those are the items you should start with.

I know it seems obvious. But it’s all too easy to toss rational thought out the window when you feel stressed. So remember to start with the most pressing duties first. It makes all the difference!

3. “Batch” your tasks

Now that you’re down to the bare bones of what absolutely needs to get accomplished in the next eight hours or so, the next step is to attack the tasks in a way that’s streamlined and efficient. The less wasted time, the better.

“Batching” my to-do list is something I like to do when I’m feeling stretched a little thin. This basically means grouping similar tasks together and then conquering them in a single period of time, rather than skipping around from project to project. For example, I’ll answer all urgent emails in one time block, before moving on to reviewing an investor deck.

It saves time by preventing me from having to switch gears every two minutes. Plus, it feels great to cross one chunk of tasks off my list all at once!

4. Prepare tomorrow’s list

You made it through the day and managed to conquer the things that were the most critical. However, you’re likely still left with a few items on your list. Those tasks that didn’t get highlighted are still important; they just weren’t urgent enough to take top priority today.

This is why I like to spend the last few minutes of my day starting my to-do list for the following workday ensuring that those “leftover” items are at the very top of my list. It’s a rolling routine that ensures I’m always starting my morning off with the things that deserve my immediate attention.

I’ll be the first to admit that a lengthy to-do list is enough to send you spiraling into panic mode. However, giving in to that frazzled feeling really won’t do you any favors. Instead, put these four tips to work, and you’re sure to power through that never-ending to-do list—no nail biting required.