Don’t let the list stress you out

A few weeks ago, a friend complained about her to-do list no longer being a source of motivation for her. Rather than serving as a personal productivity tool, it was only causing her stress. Concerned I reached out to her and told her I’d be willing to help. I guessed that most likely, the problem was with how she set up tasks on her to-do list.  It turned out I was right (I enjoyed my Sherlock moment).

My friend has to manage many different processes. There are points in some of those processes where she has to wait for input from other people before she can continue. It was this waiting that was causing her anxiety. She was capturing “waiting” as a to-do list task. Big mistake.

An empty to-do list
Only capture a task to be completed by you

The tasks that go on your to-do list should be only those tasks that are completely under your control. The things you are supposed to do personally and not delegate. If you try to capture “waiting on someone else” on your to-do list, you will only give yourself anxiety. If they fail to provide that information on time, and they might not, they will ruin your schedule. You can’t control their schedule. They also have other tasks and projects they are working on.

Suppose today is Monday and you are working on a report that is due on Friday. You are almost done with it but you need some figures from your colleague, Idris in another office. You email the report to Idris and ask him to please provide the needed figures so you can submit the report on time. So far, so good. Bear in mind you don’t know what else Idris is working on this week but because the report is an A-task to you, you might feel Idris should send those figures back ASAP. He might not. Here is what you should od. On your to-do list, create a task for Wednesday “Call Idris to follow up on figures if he hasn’t sent them.” He might send the figures before Wednesday in which case your task becomes redundant. If he doesn’t however, you have chosen when to follow up and what to do. This frees you to continue working on other tasks without giving yourself anxiety waiting for Idris’s reply.

An alarm clock. There is a big question mark on its face.
Don’t wait for Idris. Carry on with other tasks

To recap:

  1. Only capture tasks that are under your control in to-do list.
  2. Waiting is not a to-do list task.
  3. You cannot control other people’s schedule.

Give it a try. I guarantee you will have less stress.

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