The Unfinishable To-Do List

dT8Rd9ATeOne of the best lessons I learned about time and workload management without going crazy was at one of my first jobs in New York City. I was working for a boutique architecture firm at the time, and suffice to say, there were days when my “task list” in Outlook stretched over pages and pages.

At first, I would go nuts trying to get everything done each day, so I could start the next day with a clean slate. Eventually, my manager and I started having regular meetings – sometimes daily – where we’d review my task list and she’d help me prioritize what had to get done. When we started, we’d mark a few things, but I’d still try to rush through them and get to the other items on my list.

Then, one day, I watched as she managed her own to-do list and realized I was making a very basic (and very mistaken) assumption: that all – or even a majority – of tasks on my list were going to get done at all. The next time we sat down and she told me what I needed to prioritize that day, I realized that she truly did not expect that I would finish other things on my list that day.

The realization was liberating.

It’s been several jobs and several years, but nowadays, I keep a running task list – I use a Google app called “Manage It,” though their task canvas also works. Part of having the running task list is knowing that it is unlikely to ever be empty. The other part is not beating myself up when I don’t get as much struck off the list as I’d like.

For someone like me, who was used to stressing about finishing things quickly (and well) and moving on to the next item, always reaching for that blank slate, this was a major change in philosophy. It’s left me calmer, happier and provides a fantastic tool for one-on-one meetings with my current manager: she can see what I’m working on, see what my priorities are, and give me direction on when my workload might enable me to help others on my team. Since I’ve detached from needing to finish every task every day, I stress less and recognize that my workload, while immense, is also manageable.

What techniques do you use for managing your workload? Simple to-do lists? Automated apps? Do you try to finish everything every day, or are there things you keep on your list just to make sure you don’t forget them?

2 responses to “The Unfinishable To-Do List

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have slowly been realizing the power of prioritizing on a to-do list. I used to think that anything I put on a to-do list was already a priority, and therefore, not negotiable in terms of pushing it to the next day or another time. I also used to feel like a total failure for partially completing a task on my list, focusing on how I didn’t compete the entire task. These days I’m a bit less extreme and will give myself props for whatever baby bite of a task I complete (but not always; I certainly have days where I beat myself up).
    I’m still stuck on sticky notes. Hot pink sticky notes. However, I do like that app you described!

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      Thanks for commenting, Susie. 🙂 It sounds like you’re taking a good view of it in terms of being less extreme – and hey, we all have days we beat ourselves up…just hopefully fewer and fewer as time goes on. 🙂 *hugs* Check the app out, it’s really cool!

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