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How to Manage Your To-Do List

When you’re juggling school, work and personal commitments, your to-do list can seem impossibly long. Balancing work, life and online education is a challenge, but it’s doable.

However, when your to-do list feels like it’s staring back at you with hundreds of unchecked boxes, you can feel overwhelmed. That to-do list becomes a major roadblock instead of a helpful tool. It risks becoming a to-don’t.
Before you throw your to-do list out the window and start over, you need to learn how to get through the frustration and create a system to break down that list into manageable chunks. Here are some ways you can deal with the piling up of to-dos, take control of that list, and start using it like the tool it was meant to be.

1. Start Writing Everything Down

That simple task you think you’ll remember? You won’t. Mental notes are not helpful when your list is a mile long. To start, make sure you are writing everything down.

Why is this important? When your to-do list is swirling around in your head, you’re going to feel overpowered. Often when you write everything down, it starts to seem far more manageable. The list may still be just as long as it was before, but suddenly it seems like something you can handle.

Next, once you have your list written, you can start checking things off. Checking off things actually releases dopamine in your brain, so you feel accomplished and happy. This can help drive the momentum you need to tackle more and more of your list as the day moves on.

2. Break Things Down

Some things on your to-do list are actually multi-step processes, while others are simply one-step jobs. For instance, if you have “make dinner” on your list as well as “study for test,” these are two very different processes. While studying may take a chunk of time, it is not a process that has several steps. Dinner, on the other hand, requires:

  • Finding the recipe
  • Prepping ingredients
  • Running (potentially) to the store for ingredients
  • Cooking
  • Plating
  • Serving

For larger tasks, break them down into smaller steps. This will momentarily make your to-do list feel longer, but you will get the benefit of checking off those smaller steps faster, resulting in satisfaction of your accomplishment.

3. Enlist Some Help

Balancing work, home life and school is a challenge no matter how you look at it, but having some help along the way can make the challenge easier to handle. Enlist the help of your partner, children or friend.

If you are like most people, asking for help is not easy. You don’t want to feel like a burden to those you care about. This is rarely what ends up happening, though. Instead, what you may find is that asking for help actually improves your relationship with the other person and makes you more favorable in their eyes. This is known as the “Ben Franklin” effect. When people do you a favor, they actually like you more, so don’t feel like you are being a mooch when you are asking for a little help. Of course, when asking for help, be willing to give it in return when needed.

4. Prioritize Using the Eisenhower Method

eishenhower method chart
If your to-do list is still mind-boggling, it’s time to prioritize. How can you do this? Take a lesson from history.
President Eisenhower created a matrix that helped him stay focused on the most important tasks. If it worked for the president of the United States, it will certainly work for you. The Eisenhower matrix breaks down tasks into four categories based on the level of urgency. These are:

  • Do First – These are your most urgent tasks, often those tasks with a deadline.
  • Do Later – These are priority tasks without an urgent deadline.
  • Delegate – These are the tasks you can ask for help with.
  • Eliminate – These are tasks that you do not need to have on today’s list. (Things you want to do, but don’t need to do.)

Following this matrix may help you remove some items from that to-do list and make it more feasible.
Getting your to-do list under control needs to be a top priority, no matter your stage or status in life. Are you looking for a school that provides flexible online programming? Check out ACU Online’s degree programs, and find one that will fit in with your newly organized to-do list.

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