Stressed Out by Too Much To Do? Empty Your Task List (for a bit)

May 19, 2014

Stressed out by your overflowing task list? Is it discouraging to see so many incomplete items that have been sitting there for so long?


Then do this: Empty Your Task List. Yes, you heard me, empty it by (temporarily) deferring all tasks to the future. In MYN, that means set the date to a future date, say 2 weeks off. Even better, as you set the date ahead, put as many as you can in the low priority section. In 1MTD that means moving everything to the low priority section. Maybe leave 2 or 3 tasks behind (ones you really need to do today), but otherwise empty the main part of your list!

Now stare at the list for a while. How’s that feel? Tell yourself this is all you need to do right now, and believe it. Feel the relaxation of having no big list of things in the immediate future. Unwind a bit. I know this seems irresponsible, but just go with it for, say, a half day, or a day. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps decrease your stress. We tend to over-commit and then feel guilty about it. This little exercise undoes the guilt for a day, which can help change your perspective–and give you some clarity.

Then, next, find and move the 4 or 5, maybe even 10, most important tasks that you have stored away, and bring them back into your main list (Critical and Opportunity Now). In MYN you do that by setting the start date to today. In 1MTD drag them up out of low. But promote no more than 10. Now work that list for a while. You’ve now got a reasonably sized list and your stress level is much lower.

But what about all those other tasks you stored away? Well, tomorrow or the next day, slowly move some back, but only really important ones. In MYN, move a large number into the low priority section with a start date set as far in the future as possible–you are keeping them out of your concern horizon using Defer-to-Review.

Why is putting these tasks off not irresponsible? Because, as I said, we all over-commit and then feel guilty about it. There is something you need to learn and maybe today is the day you will learn it: we cannot ever do it all! We’ll never get it all done! We (and others) will always think of far more than we can possibly do. So just get the excess tasks off your visible daily list and get over it. Recall, 1MTD and MYN says no more than 5 Critical tasks, and 20 Opportunity tasks. Recommit to that limit, and thereby focus on what you can do, try your best to prioritize only the most important tasks into your visible list, and move the rest out for later consideration. And move on with your life!

Michael Linenberger

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