I’ve written before about being overwhelmed with too many things to do. It’s a common predicament for nonprofit professionals. We know we can’t do everything, so we have to prioritize, but how do we keep that mountain of tasks from completely overwhelming our productivity, and how do we keep from missing things?
I’m going to show you the method I use. It’s helped me immensely, I don’t feel as overwhelmed each day, and at the end of each week I feel waves of euphoria washing over me (well, maybe it’s not quite that good).
The Success River
I like to think of my responsibilities as a flowing river. No, it’s never going to stop flowing. There’s always going to be more, but through a structured system I’ve been able to narrow down that huge flowing river into something manageable that reduces stress.
For this system I use an online ToDo list platform called Trello, it’s free for basic usage. Trello is basically an online todo list with some bells and whistles. You could do this same thing manually in a paper notebook using something akin to the Bullet Journal method, on a whiteboard, or even with a system of sticky notes. Trello allows you to set deadlines, have multiple steps per task, ad images, and many other advanced options.
I setup my Success River with four lists:
The Kitchen Sink
This list is a catch all list where I write down any and all ideas, tasks, and projects that I need to work on. I find it helpful to be able to write down everything somewhere. When I can write it down it seems to take up less space in my brain and I can move on to other things.
You can see on my list here I’ve got Go Through Email, that’s because I don’t default to checking email. Email can be a huge waste of time and allows other people to set your priorities, not good.
This Weeks Priorities
The second list gets reset at the beginning of each week. Every Monday morning one of the first things I do is sit down and determine what are the priorities for this week. Most of these will get pulled over from the Kitchen Sink (in Trello it’s just drag and drop, super easy.) Some, will be added from things I haven’t written down.
The key here is to be realistic. You know how many interruptions you typically have throughout the day, schedule accordingly. I typically also look at my calendar for the week and see how much open time vs meetings I have for the week. My goal here is to list out five or six tasks that if completed I will feel like the week was a success. Sometimes I keep the tasks broad, and then break them down into smaller tasks on the next list.
Daily Get It Done
This third list gets cleared at the beginning of each day. In a perfect world everything would have been accomplished the day before, but frequently there will be one or two items not completed. I move all these items back into the “This Weeks Priorities” list. This helps me re-evaluate my tasks for the day.
My goal here is to have two to three high priority items each day and usually a few housekeeping tasks. The high priority tasks often involve more intense mental focus, so I’ll break those up with more menial tasks like filling, stretching, or straightening up.
Once I’ve chosen my tasks for the day I set to work. Having this list already thought out in the morning helps me to stay focused during the rest of the day. When I feel myself starting to get distracted or my mind wandering to other more shiney projects it’s easy to remind myself that I’ve already thought this through and that these tasks are the most important right now. It gives me an easy shortcut to pull my focus back to the task at hand.
Weekly Success List
Any time I finish a task I immediately move it over to the “Weekly Success List”. There’s a small psychological reward for seeing that task get moved over. It’s addictive.
At the end of the week I get to look through all the tasks I completed during the week. It’s usually pretty impressive. I don’t say that to boast, but because your’s will be too. It’s amazing how much really does get done each week and it’s nice to take a moment to enjoy that warm fuzzy glow.
This is the best part! When I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the fuzzy glow I archive all those tasks. In Trello they magically disappear. It’s like a cool ocean breeze just comes through and blows all that stress away. I love it!
How do you handle your todo list? Leave a comment below and let me know what method works for you.
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