Productivity Tip #3- How to Make Realistic To-Do Plans

Picasso Quote“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”
― Pablo Picasso

Why is that almost everything takes longer than expected? Our perfectly planned out schedules can get off track and we are lucky to even cross off half of the things we had planned for the day. According to Forbes, “almost 90% of professionals admitted they’re unable to accomplish all the tasks on their to-do list by the end of an average workday.”

Some days things just get out of control and there are completely unexpected circumstances that force us to abandon our planned activities. But if you are regularly finding yourself off schedule then you may need to plan better.

People tend to have trouble accurately planning their day. Psychologists call this tendency a planning fallacy. It is the tendency of people to under estimate how long a task will take even when they have had similar experience in the past. We tend to be overly optimistic about our ability to complete projects quickly and don’t account for delays.

One of the possible explanations for this planning problem is that we think things will go quickly and easily because we want them to. Another explanation could be that we blame delays on outside circumstances rather than taking personal responsibility for when and if we get something accomplished.

Solutions to Never-Ending To-Do Lists

To combat your natural tendency to underestimate how long it takes to complete tasks there are a few ways to make your to-do lists more realistic. If you find yourself consistently behind, a simple solution is to add 20% to how long you estimate each task will take.

Another solution that might work for you is to trim your list to the most important tasks. Some people follow the 1-3-5 rule where they try to accomplish one big thing, 3 medium things and 5 smaller tasks a day. We can spend a lot of time checking off minor details on our to-do lists that don’t move us forward in life. This system limits the amount of small tasks we do and makes sure we accomplish a big task every day that is related to our overall goals.

Another way is to make your list match your reality is to remove outside distractions. You may need to close your office door to keep out co-workers or sometimes children. You might have to log out of your email or disconnect from the internet entirely. I find that using timers can help you focus by reminding you that time is literally ticking away. Without interruptions you should be able to stick to your timeline better.

Janet Dailey Quote
We often over-estimate how much time we actually have in a day. We forget about all the little routine tasks that take up our time. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we will complete a task tomorrow because tomorrow looks like a blank slate. But if we write down all of our obligations, we see that our time to work productively is limited and the best time to act is whenever you have a few minutes of free time.

A huge barrier for some people to accomplishing their to-do lists is procrastination. Sometimes we put off important work because we are afraid of failure or feeling overwhelmed. Other times we just can’t muster up the motivation. For the latter case, it can help to remind yourself of your overall goals. Best-selling author of The Greatest Salesman in the World, Og Mandino said it best in the following quote.

The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them. Even the most tedious chore will become endurable as you parade through each day convinced that every task, no matter how menial or boring, brings you closer to fulfilling your dreams.

Reminding yourself about why you need to make a cold sales call, study or write a report can spur you into action. And sometimes we just need to act without the motivation and trust that it will come. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just work on a small part and see how far you can get. You don’t have to create a masterpiece the first time, you just need to get started.

At the end of the week take a look back at your to-do lists and see what was accomplished. Be honest about your reasons for not completing everything. Did you schedule too much, were there too many distractions or were you procrastinating? How can you adjust your habits and your to-list to match?

If you’re looking for apps that will help you create to-do lists, time your tasks, track your time and beat procrastination check out my productivity report.

The next post covers working in cycles for more productivity. Sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get all my productivity, energy and wellness tips.

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