What To Do When Your To-Do List Gets Out of Hand

With these five steps, your burgeoning to-do list can seem more attainable. (Photo: Getty Images/Muharrem Oner)

David Allen is a master (I call him Mr. Miyagi) of productivity.

The thing is, he actually admits that he is as lazy and easily distracted as the rest of us. But he hasn’t let that stop him from developing one of the most popular and successful productivity methods out there.

He re-released an updated edition of his landmark book, Getting Things Done, in March to include everything he has learned since the first edition was published 15 years ago.

When I interviewed him, he shared a powerful strategy to help us apply order to chaos.

We’re busy people. We are constantly making decisions, thinking about what’s next, and trying to multitask to improve productivity. But here’s the thing: Decision-making creates mental fatigue. What’s more, deciding which shoes to put on wears down cognitive muscle as much as deciding on a new hire. There’s proof that multitasking not only creates distraction, but also wears down your brainpower.

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Make a To-Do List Today… Or Any Day

To help cut back on mental fatigue and the urge to multitask, try these steps:

  1. Capture. Identify all of the things that are distracting you — the things that aren’t on cruise control — and write them down. Get them out of your head. It will take some time at first. 

  2. Clarify. Then, ask yourself: Is each of these items something you need to do? Is it something you can pass to someone else? What do you need to do to accomplish it?

  3. Organize. Categorize tasks by item — what does something mean to you and where does it belong? This includes phone calls, errands, etc.

  4. Reflect. Ask yourself: “What are all the things on this list that I can do at this moment?” (For instance, if you have half an hour, what are the calls on your calls list that you can make?)

  5. Engage. Sit down and complete the tasks on the list.

David’s other tips for getting things done include:

  • Get your email to zero — and try to keep it there. If you have a clean slate, when new information (emails) comes in, you can properly evaluate whether or not it needs your immediate attention.

  • Once a week, take two hours to catch up with projects and go back to the things at that aren’t considered “high alert.”

  • Constantly reflect and refresh. Daydream. Find something that brings you back to the present.

Listen to my full conversation with David below:

For more on David, click here.


ABOUT LEWIS HOWES: Lewis is a pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur who hosts the top-ranked podcast The School of Greatness. He interviews the best and brightest minds in health, entrepreneurship, relationships and lifestyle. Follow Lewis on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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