As the founder and CEO of a nonprofit, my workweek sees a lot of action. I’m also a single mother of two living in New York City. And then there’s the evil monster known as Procrastination who likes to convince me to avoid duties for as long as humanly possible.
It’s a nagging voice in the back of my brain telling me I don’t need to respond to that email right now. Or take out the garbage. The reality of the situation is that the person will hear from me, and the garbage will get forcibly evicted from my apartment — but only if I learn how to talk back to Procrastination.
Many of us put things off because we are overwhelmed with how much there is to get done. I live with panic disorder, which means I already have anxiety. Getting overwhelmed is a part of my daily language. To navigate these anxious feelings, I take proactive measures and follow specific task management techniques. Primarily, creating lists to reduce anxiety in my day-to-day life.
Task management lists
Making lists are a great way to visually see what tasks are on your plate. List making goes beyond simple grocery lists — they can help you nail down long- and short-term goals, as well as handle task management in a way that reduces stress. To begin, let’s start with the master list.
The master list
The first step to alleviating daily anxiety is creating a master list of the things that need to get done in your life.
You can use a page in a physical planner, the notes section of your phone, an Excel spreadsheet on your computer, or whatever project management tools you feel comfortable checking on a regular basis. I like to use my real computer (as opposed to the fake toy computer my 8-year-old son plays with because it doesn’t provide list-making capabilities), but I digress.
For ease of task management, I have my master list in a Word document. Here are some items on my master list:
- Buy probiotics
- Research grants for Stigma Fighters
- Get Oatmeal (my cat) neutered
These items are seemingly unrelated to one another, but they share one common theme: they all need to get done. And they will get accomplished, however they might not be completed on the same day or even during the same month. Use the master list to define the things you want to get accomplished within the next couple of months.
The daily list
Here is where getting things done comes into play. When you wake up in the morning, move three items from your master list to your daily list.
If you try to do more than three things, you will go into anxiety mode and task management becomes a distant thing of the past. Three is the magical number here, and it’s important to stick with that. Here is an example of some tasks you might find on a daily list:
- Go grocery shopping
- Write draft of article for website
- Research junior high schools for my son
These are three tasks that could reasonably be completed in one day. When I look at that list, I don’t feel overwhelmed, but rather I feel empowered. I’m thinking, “I got this!” Again, only pick items that you can feasibly accomplish in one day. And if something comes up and you can’t complete them all, don’t sweat. Move the item to the daily list for tomorrow. Then, only add two items from the master list.
If you’re feeling ambitious and you’ve completed all three things, you can go to your master list and pick a fourth thing to accomplish — but only if you have the energy. Task management is about long-term success, and if you burn out on four tasks one day and zero the next, you’ll start to feel overwhelmed.
The dream list
Everyone needs a dream list. It encompasses goals you’re reaching for on a long-term agenda, such as buying a house, starting your own business or finding a romantic partner. When you have accomplished all the items on your daily list, pick an item on the dream list and work on that.
For example, if your goal is to move to the west coast, take out a piece of paper, draw a picture or make a collage, and envision your life in Los Angeles. Write down any thoughts or concepts that come mind, neighborhoods you’d like to live in, or activities you see yourself involved in.
An item from the dream list will become a reality when you have more clarity about how you are going to pursue that goal.
Your imagination needs to be activated in order to start thinking creatively about life goals. And with effective task management, you’ll have the right mentality and state of mind to tackle more abstract ventures.
Time to start a list
Put aside your notions of honey-do lists and boring checklists. Start thinking of master, daily and dream lists to keep your task management on track. And if you’re a freelancer or WordPress pro, you can check out these tips for time management, too. You’ve got the tools to get things done, so go ahead and get started. Keep me posted on your progress!