Get It Off Your To-Do List

“I’m struggling with my to-do list,” Sarah sighed. “Very depressing.”

I nodded. “And?”

“Two days ago, I had ten things on my list,” she started. “At the end of the day, I had twelve things on my list. The next morning, yesterday, two more things were added overnight. I finished three items during the day, but that was replaced by three more. I never seem to make headway and it is getting me down.”

“How do things get off your list? As a manager, you have a lot on your plate and we can’t have depressed managers walking around infecting everyone else.”

“I just work really hard. I come in early, I stay late, take work home with me over the weekend, but, my list stays full. I have trouble knowing what’s important, what to do next, if I am going to miss a deadline. There is no rhyme or reason to my priorities.”

“When you look at your list, how do you decide what to work on next?” I asked.

“Whatever I think I can get accomplished. It feels really good to get something off my plate that day, but all the other things on my list pile up, distract me, make me anxious.”

“Would it feel good to get some things off your list? Not get them all done, but get them off your list?”

“I can’t just cross stuff off the list. It ALL has to get done, eventually,” Sarah complained.

“There are three ways to get things off your list,” I explained. “You are only using one, that is the do-it-now strategy, which works but leaves you depressed. Here are two other strategies to get things off your to-do list. Schedule the task on your calendar. Commit the necessary amount of time in the future, before the deadline to get it done. Cross it off your list.”

Sarah thought and finally replied. “If I do that, I can see my priorities clearer. My deadlines show up, but are under control because I know I have committed time to complete. But, what if my calendar gets full? I have more tasks to complete, but no more committed time.”

“Yes, and you said it ALL has to get done. If you have no available time to commit, and it ALL has to get done, you have no choice but to delegate some of the tasks out to other people on your team. This is management, it all has to get done, but you have to use the other two strategies –

  • Do it now, get it done, myself.
  • Schedule it on my calendar, with committed time, before the deadline.
  • Delegate it.

“Now, when you delegate, it doesn’t mean it’s done. You still have to check on it, but don’t put the check-in on your to-do list. Where do you put the check-in?”

Sarah smiled, looking way less depressed. “I put it on my calendar.”

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