I’ve been thinking a lot about getting things done. I have been updating the content on my website, and it is taking WAY longer than it “should.”

I know I’m not alone. My clients are struggling with the same thing. Most of them have long lists—often multiple lists—of things that they “should” get done but never seem to get around to them. So what do we do?

Let’s start with the “to do” list itself. Most people make one list of everything they want, need, or feel they should do and then feel guilty when it all doesn’t get done.

Instead of one long list, try three lists (or folders if those tasks involve paper):

• Urgent – what absolutely must be done within a week (bills paid, forms submitted, anything with a looming deadline)
• Long term – the I’d-like-to-if-I-ever-had-lots-of-extra-time tasks (books to read, projects to do, business cards to organize). If these tasks are left undone, your life will not really be affected in any significant way.
• Current – things that need to be done but are not urgent (phone calls to return, appointments to make, websites to update)

After you make your list and/or files, look over them again. Is that thank you note you didn’t write at Christmas really urgent, or should you just let it go? Is scrapbooking your daughter’s first year of life a current project if she’s now 10 and you haven’t started?

Be realistic. We have to look at our time in relation to where we are now, not how we’d like it to be. Most of us wistfully remember how much easier it was to get things done when we were younger. Our lives have become more complicated, and we simply have more responsibilities. It is time to look at our lists in light of where our lives are now.

Next, figure out an action plan; a list alone will not get tasks accomplished. We have all experienced the frustration of seeing the same long list of items month after month with nothing checked off. A list is just a wish, an intention. It needs action to move it forward. To create an action plan, follow these steps:

1. Start with a planner. It doesn’t matter whether it’s paper or electronic. Just don’t use both.

2. Figure out how much time you really have. Much of each day is consumed by maintenance tasks (checking email, returning calls, cleaning, etc.). Pay attention to how much time those daily activities take. How much time is left? When are those periods of time?

3. Schedule urgent tasks first. What day will you pay that bill? Mark it on your calendar. When is that form due? Schedule time to work on it a few days before the deadline to have time to work out any glitches.

4. Don’t overschedule. Most people underestimate how long it takes to accomplish tasks. If you have to speak with more than one person to resolve an issue, it may take several phone calls and lots of time on hold. Figure that time in when you schedule.

5. Remember, life happens. Equipment breaks, children get sick, friends call unexpectedly. You won’t always get it all done. No one does all the time.

6. Reschedule what didn’t get done. This may involve doubling up on the next day’s tasks or bumping less urgent items.

7. Celebrate what you did get done. Most people focus on the unfinished tasks. Acknowledge daily what you accomplished.

This month get control of your “to do” list. Figure out how much time you have to work. Get the urgent tasks scheduled (we’ll deal with current projects next month). Don’t worry about the long term projects. Celebrate each day what you accomplished. You’ll be glad you did.

©Renee Ursem, 2010

Author's Bio: 

Renee Ursem, Professional Organizer and owner of Get It Together, LLC in Las Vegas, helps people learn how to organize and maintain their spaces using simple, practical strategies.
Renee can be reached at www.get-it-together-llc.com. She is on Facebook and Linkedin.