Your to do list is too long

If you’re like most people (including me) you like to list what has to get done in a day.

Your to do list might be in a planner, on an index card, in a Google Tasks file, in your head, or just scribbled on a Post it note.

It probably starts with the obvious, dives into the meat of what really has to happen during the day, and is peppered with random little bits of random little things that you also hope to get done. Before you know it, you have 28 things to get done over the next six to eight hours, which will of course be interrupted by email checking, social network browsing, and random needs of others.

Some people equate their job value to how long the to do list can become (“Of course I’m valuable to the company … look at all the stuff I have to get done today! Sharpen pencils, stare at Facebook, appear busy at all times …”).

It’s human nature to consistently overestimate what can get done in a day, which leads to the challenge of this post: make your to do list realistic and small. This doesn’t necessarily mean do less, but it does mean you can consolidate your lists to make it easier to check off a chunk of it rather than one line of it.

Long lists are rarely fully completed. They are intimidating and defeating. But if you can take the five phone calls you have to make and instead bundle them into one action item of “must call today” and bang it out in one session, you have completed a much larger percentage of the list.

And for you sales reps on the street: listing the accounts you see every Wednesday should not be part of a to do list. That’s like a retailer listing “unlock the front door.” It’s part of the day, it’s something that should be in a schedule, not a to-do list. (More on this planning idea later.)

Push yourself to make your to do lists manageable and realistic (what if you can only list four things for today? What would they be?), then take pride in completion. Long lists do not mean you’re busy, and they do not justify your existence. Your actions do that.