How To Avoid Overwhelm By Only Allowing 10 Tasks per Day.

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Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people, in the forums I follow, commenting on how overwhelmed they feel and how many tasks they have on their to-do list every day. I’ve seen numbers ranging from twenty to sixty tasks per day and I know, from my own experience, that these numbers are not sustainable and what will happen is people will end up rescheduling many of these tasks because they won’t get done.

The problem with a long list of to-dos is the very sight of such a list leads to that feeling of overwhelm. Looking at a list of thirty to-dos first thing in the morning is just going to put you off wanting to even start attacking such a list. Instead what you need is a list of around ten items that will leave you feeling inspired to get started.

Why ten?

We live in a world of distraction. No matter who you are or what you do, you are going to get distracted. Email brings new tasks, bosses and colleagues ask us to do little pieces of work for them and clients and customers demand attention. These are unavoidable. When you start the day with a list of thirty tasks something is going to break, and usually that something is your task management. When you assign yourself a maximum of ten tasks a day on your to-do list two things happen. The first is you have time to deal with the distractions that will come in and second you will be forced to prioritise what you want to get done that day which helps you to focus on the things that are meaningful to you.

The Ten Task Maximum

The ten task maximum does not include your regular daily routines. If you have a morning routine of exercise, planning and learning for example, then the morning routine would not be included in your ten tasks. A morning routine is just something you do every morning and if you do it regularly — ie every morning — you should not need any reminder on your to-do list to do it.

I have a morning routine that involves 45 minutes of studying and 15 minutes of meditation. These two tasks are not on my to-do list, but the one hour is scheduled on my calendar as my self-development hour. It is a non-negotiable part of my day. I have been following this routine for nearly a year now and I really do not need to be reminded to do it in my to-do list. All I need to see is at 5 AM tomorrow morning I will do my studying followed by fifteen minutes of meditation.

I also have around eight routines admin tasks that need doing at the end of every day. Little things like writing up student feedback, updating attendance records and tracking new students in my learning centre. These routine tasks are on my to-do list, but I filter them out and they only show up at the end of the day when I need to see them. For the majority of the day, I do not need to see these tasks because they cannot be done until the end of the day and they act as little reminders to make sure I have done them. I do not include them on my list of ten tasks.

What I want to do is see ten tasks (or less if possible) when I begin the day and those ten tasks are meaningful and advance my work or projects in a positive way. I have a daily calendar event on my calendar for doing admin tasks (8:00 pm to 8:50 pm) and so I know they will get done.

Time Blocking

Because it is inevitable we will be distracted by something each day, be that a request from a customer or a demand from a boss, blocking an hour or two off each workday to get on with the ten tasks you have assigned yourself is crucial. All of us should be able to find an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon for undisturbed focus work. There really isn’t anything so urgent it cannot wait an hour or so. Of course, if you work in the emergency room of a hospital or are a firefighter, then you are not going to be able to do this, but any information worker who cannot block off an hour or so each day has bigger problems than just a long list of to-dos.

In twenty-five years of working in the legal and education professions, I have never once come across a situation where I was not able to block one hour off to get some focused work done. I have some language students who sometimes tell me they are too busy to do their English class, yet they are always able to find ninety minutes for their lunch (officially they have one hour, but they go for lunch at 11:30 am and they don’t return to their desks until close to 1 pm.) When we need to, we can find the time. It’s just a question of priorities.

Priorities

And that nicely leads me to the biggest benefit of only allowing ten tasks on your to-do list each day. It forces you to prioritise. We all have a lot of things we would like to do each day, but we only have twenty-four hours to do them. We cannot do everything at once. When you are limited to just ten meaningful tasks each day you are forced to think about which of the tasks you have to do will have the biggest positive impact on your day and your active projects. When you choose tasks that will move your projects forward each day you are making a bigger impact on your projects than if you were randomly picking away at a long list of tasks. You become more focused on the outcomes and less focused on the trivialities. Ultimately, projects need to be completed and focusing on the tasks that will get you to completion rather than the little insignificant tasks will get you to the outcome you want faster.

Having a long list of daily to-dos does not make you a hero. All it does is cause you to feel overwhelmed and that leads to procrastination. Reducing your to-do list to the ten most important tasks each day allows you to begin the day focused and energised and ready to move your projects towards the outcomes you desire faster. You will procrastinate less and you will still have time each day to deal with the unforeseen interruptions and distractions that are an inevitable part of living in the twenty-first century.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit that like button below 👍 It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

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My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you to become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.

Be Focused On Your Outcomes Not Your Tasks.

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There’s a common misconception about being productive — that productivity is about completing a lot of tasks each day and to become more productive all you have to do is complete more tasks. Of course, this is not true.

Becoming more productive is about doing work that matters so your measurable output increases. Completing two tasks that move a project or goal further forward is going to produce far better long-term results than completing a hundred tasks that have no impact on any of your important projects or goals.

Stop picking the low hanging fruit.

We have a natural tendency to go after the low hanging fruit. To check off the easy tasks because doing so makes us feel good. We get that dopamine hit and that puts a smile on our face and has us wanting more. So we populate our to-do lists with even more easy, non-important tasks just so we can check them off and get that dopamine hit. It becomes a vicious circle we put more and more unimportant tasks on our to-do lists hoping for more dopamine hits.

Of course, we tell ourselves we are completing important tasks. After all, we must have a clean desk so we can focus better on our work and we need to make sure we have enough staples in our top draw just in case we run out while stapling important documents. Oh, and we should check our email just one more time in case something important has come in.

Begin the day with a simple plan.

We all have a good mix of easy routine and hard project work to complete each day. Difficulties start when you are not clear about what work is important. Prioritising your work is a big part of becoming more productive. This is why beginning the day with a plan based on what current projects are important is vital. However, the routine work can very easily take over the day if you are not careful.

Assign time each day/week for your routine admin work.

There are a couple of ways you can make sure the less important routine work does not take over your day. One way is to assign one day each week for admin work. This could be Friday afternoon for example. Friday’s are famously difficult to focus on important work because we are often thinking about our plans for the weekend. If that is the case, you could assign Friday as your admin and clean up day (you could even make sure you have enough staples in your top drawer). This means you only have easy tasks to do on Friday and you don’t need a lot of focus to get them done. Another way is to allocate a time slot each day to do your admin and routine tasks. Giving yourself one hour a day to just get the routine, easy tasks complete will help you to stay focused on the important, project work for the other seven or eight hours each day. I assign one hour a day for all my routine admin work. I usually assign the end of the day to do this because I don’t need a lot of concentration to do it. But you can choose any time of the day or week to do it.

Focus on your desired outcome.

The key to better productivity is to focus on the outcome you want, not the tasks that will get you there. We often add unnecessary tasks when we are planning out a project. For example, “send email to get 2019 planning template”. Nine times out of ten, a phone call would get the desired result faster. You might also find you have tasks such as “talk to John about the presentation order” and lower down your list have a task saying “ask John for the 2019 sales forecast”. These two tasks could be completed either by one phone call or walking down the hall to talk to John, but because the tasks are not grouped together you miss the second one. That means now you have to communicate with John twice instead of once.

When you set up a project, you need to be very clear on what it is you are trying to achieve. What’s the desired outcome for the project? David Allen, in Getting Things Done, writes about this and Tony Robbins in his Time Of Your Life course puts a lot of stress on outcome thinking. The tasks help, they are signposts along the way, but more often than not the shortest distance between where you are now and successfully completing the project is not through completing all your tasks in the right order, more often than not the fastest way to completing the project is a simple phone call or going out to see the client or customer.

I use Evernote to plan out my projects and not Todoist. I can add tasks and steps I think will be needed to complete the project in a list at the bottom of my project note and once I am satisfied I have everything needed to get the project completed, I go through the list removing tasks I feel are not necessary. What I end up with is a list of absolutely essential tasks. This often reduces the number of tasks required to complete the project down by half.

If you are serious about becoming more productive, focus less on your tasks and more on what it is you are trying to achieve. The goal, the completed project and the outcome you desire are what you are looking for, not completing ten tasks so you feel like you have accomplished something. As Jim Rohn said, “Don’t mistake movement for achievement. It’s easy to get faked out by being busy. The question is: Busy doing what?”

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, please hit the life button below. It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

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My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you to become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.

Shifting Priorities In A Crazy Week

Last week was a full week for me. I had a number of presentations to deliver and a full schedule of meetings and classes. As usual with full weeks, I found my priorities for each day shifting by the hour. An email, text message or phone call could instantly change the focus of the day and turn my planned day into a disaster zone.

Over the years I have found some strategies that help when these inevitable days or weeks occur and I thought it would be a good idea to share these with you.

Core Priorities

The first strategy is to make sure your core priorities are firmly in place. For me these priorities include ensuring I get enough sleep. That means I will not work past 11pm and I will always make sure I am in bed by 11:30pm. I find I cannot work efficiently or creatively when I do not have enough sleep, and a lack of sleep often results in me catching a cold. When combined, the debilitating effects of feeling tired and sick is a guaranteed way of turning a difficult week in to an impossible week. Experience has taught me this, so trying to be a hero and fighting through tiredness and feeling achy and sick is counterproductive.

Focused Daily Mini-Review

Another strategy I follow is to make sure I maintain my todo list manager and calendar. This means I will spend twenty to thirty minutes at the end of the day reviewing my tasks and making sure my calendar has all the latest updates and changes to my schedule. On busy days, I don’t always have time to be checking off tasks as I complete them or updating my schedule when things change. Fortunately, I am in the habit of capturing everything as it happens and I will be entering any new tasks, projects or changes to my calendar directly into Todoist. I can always tell when a lot is happening in my life when my Todoist inbox is collecting more than ten items a day. Taking those twenty to thirty minutes at the end of the day to check off the tasks I have completed, updating my calendar and pushing off the less urgent tasks to another day or week is my way of putting myself back into the driving seat of my life. On a normal week, my daily mini-review would only take around ten minutes, but when things are hectic, it is important to start each day in control of your agenda and being very clear about what must be done.

Say “No”

My third strategy is to say “no”. Have you ever noticed when you are in the middle of a hectic week, you get more requests for your valuable time? In these situations I have taught myself to be brutally protective of my time. If I get a request from a friend, client or student when my schedule is under pressure, I will always say “no” or at the very least put off having to make any decision, or do any thinking, until the current workload has been reduced and the pressure is off. I would say 75% of the time, I will delay making a decision about something. I will always say I cannot do something this week, but I will be happy to look at it next week. In almost all cases, the person asking for my time will understand and be happy to let me make a decision on something later. I know saying “no” is difficult, but if you are going to be the most effective version of yourself, it is something you really need to learn to do.

Learn From The Experience

My final strategy is to learn from the experience. Whenever I have week as I did last week I will review what went well, and was did not go so well. I enjoy the experience of ‘stress testing’ my system because it allows me to fine tune things and make my system better at handling those crazy times. It is about learning to decide what is genuinely important and what can be delayed or cancelled. In my case, I published my blog post a day later than usual. This was because I made the decision that spending an hour practicing for a presentation was more important than editing the blog post. These decisions can be hard, but they are equally very important. Trying to maintain your routines as well as dealing with a full schedule is likely to lead to a breakdown somewhere. Publishing a blog post a day late is not going to change my life. But not practicing for a presentation could result is a poor presentation and that is something I will not accept.

Life is full of surprises and when you have a system that is stress tested and you fully trust you will always be able to manage those surprises and will always be prepared for any unforeseen events. To me that is one of the best things about being organised — having the systems in place to help me maintain my life at it’s more productive. And now, having come through a hectic week of meetings, presentations and classes I have learnt that my system is working fine and it is not broken. This week is looking like a much more normal week so I can now return to some of those things I put off from last week and give my full attention to them. It’s a great way to start the week.

Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.

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Stop Making Excuses and Start Prioritising

This article first appeared on my Medium blog

One of most truthful sentences I often hear is “we all have twenty-four hours a day”. We do. Nobody has any more or any less than twenty-four hours each day. Yet, some people get a lot done in those twenty-four hours, many do not.

How we spend those twenty-four hours is up to us. Of course some of us have bosses who tell us what to do, others have the freedom to choose what they want to do in their twenty-four hours. But for the most part, we all have choice. We can choose when to get out of bed, we can choose when to leave home to go to work. We can choose how we commute to work and we can choose what time to go to bed. All of these choices have an impact on our ability to do stuff.

If you have a choice about how you commute to work. You could drive yourself to work or you could choose to take the bus. If you drive yourself you are not going to be able to do much reading or email replying. You have to concentrate on driving. If you choose to take the bus, you can read, reply to email and make a few calls. If you have an hour of commuting each way, that gives you two hours. You can either use those two hours to read and or write, or you can choose to use those two hours to drive. Your choice.

Another choice we have is what we decide to do once we get to our place of work. We could start the day by checking our emails, exposing ourself to the risk of having to deal with the problems and issues that emails often throw at us. Or we could choose to do something else first, something very important that needs a lot of attention and focus. Again it is a choice we have the power to make for ourselves.

One of the things I have noticed is that whatever we decide is a priority in our lives we will always be able to find time for. I for example prioritise exercise and will always find time to exercise at least four times per week. If I find I have a schedule full of meetings and appointments leaving no time to do my minimum of four exercise sessions in that week, I will cancel one or two of my appointments or meetings in order to get those four sessions in. That is because exercise is a priority. If exercise was not a priority, I would instead find excuses not to exercise. That is just the way we are programmed. We will always be able to find time for the things we feel are important. We will always find excuses for things that we feel are not important.

I prioritise my daily mini review. To me my daily mini review is a key foundation of my whole productivity system. I like to go to bed knowing what I want to accomplish the next day so I wake up motivated and excited about the things I have chosen to do. No matter how tired I feel where I get home, I will always sit down for ten to fifteen minutes before I go to bed to review my lists and to decide what I will do the following day. For many other people, checking their Facebook or Snapchat feed is a priority and they will find the time to do just that. It’s all about priorities and where we decide to place those priorities.

Too often people complain about not having enough time to do the things they say they want to do. Quite often that is simply because they have not prioritised those things. Something else is more important. You might want to write a book, or learn a new language. Both writing a book and learning a new language requires regular, dedicated, focussed time. To do either of these you will need to set aside an amount of time to do them. If you find yourself making excuses about not having enough time to do that, then you are prioritising something else instead, often unconsciously.

To overcome this, try using your calendar to set aside time for whatever it is you want to do and strictly follow that regime. If you want to learn a new language then try setting aside 9.00pm to 10:00pm for focussed learning. If you want to write a book, then maybe you could wake up an hour earlier each day and set about writing for an hour before you go to work. If either of these activities are important enough for you, you will find the time. If they are not, you will find an excuse.

I think too often we over complicate things. Prioritising is much more simple than people think. It is very easy to find out if something is important to you because if it is, you will find the time to do it. One of the things that sets successful people apart from the rest is their ability to prioritise and focus all their time and energy on the things that are important to them. Olympic champions spend every day training for their event. When they are resting they are thinking about their next race or competition, visualising crossing the finishing line or hitting the perfect shot. They could of course choose to do something else, but then if they did, they would not be Olympic champions.

You may not want to be an Olympic champion, but you may want to spend more time with your family. What ever it is that is truly important to you, then you can find the time to do it. You just have to decide that it is a priority and then schedule regular periods of time to do it. If it is genuinely important to you as a person, then I promised you, you will find the time to do it. If it is not, you will find an excuse.

Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century