Confession time: I live by my to-do list.
Without it, I’d have to sack myself, because I’d get absolutely nothing done. I’d miss deadlines, prioritise the wrong stuff and never make headway on the biggest tasks.
However, just like anyone who relies on a to-do list to get through the day, I know the perils of falling behind.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that obvious when you’re losing ground on your tasks. Often, the degree to which you’re becoming overwhelmed with work creeps up on you unawares.
Today, you can learn from my mistakes, with these five killer signs that you’re over-stretching that to-do list:
1. You keep adjusting ‘due’ dates
If, at the end (or start) of every day, you spend half an hour adjusting ‘due’ dates and moving uncompleted tasks to future dates, something’s wrong.
Sometimes, this is justified - you may simply have realised that a particular job can wait, but if you’re doing it every single day, you’re simply giving yourself too much to do.
To-do lists should be manageable, and you’ll make yours so by leaning on some tried-and-tested productivity techniques.
2. You’ve lost a sense of purpose
The whole point of working from a to-do list is to ensure that you make meaningful progress on your various projects. In turn, you should feel a sense of pride and achievement.
But what if those feelings aren’t there? What if you simply treat each completion of a task as a box-ticking exercise before you move onto the next?
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably lost the all-important sense of purpose that comes with enjoying your job. And the reason? You’ve over-stretched yourself - plain and simple.
3. You never feel like you’re living ‘in the moment’
When you’re inadvertently playing catch-up all the time, it’s impossible to make the most of each day.
Instead of living in the moment, you’ll spend every waking hour worrying about how much you’ve got to do, and how far behind you are on numerous tasks.
If the working week all melds into one big, indecipherable ‘mush’, you’re trying to complete too many tasks at once. Everything you do should feel meaningful (see above) and very much a part of what matters at that point in time.
4. You can’t remember the last full day you took off
We all need holidays; none of us are superhuman.
Working every hour god sends and rarely taking time off is often seen as a badge of honour, but the opposite is true. In fact, if you can’t think of a single day within the last twelve months where you didn’t do any work at all, your to-do list is too big - you’re not a hero.
5. Your loved ones have said you seem ‘distant’
“Don’t take your work home” - how many times have we all heard that phrase?
Unfortunately, it’s often too late before we realise just how regularly that’s been happening.
For months, your loved ones have been telling you how distant you appear to be and how much work seems to have taken over your life. But you’ve brushed it off; they don’t understand how busy you are.
Only, they do know how busy you are, and that’s the exact problem; this kind of attitude on your behalf can unfortunately result in broken relationships that are hard to repair.
Don’t let that happen - remember what matters the most in your life (hint: it isn’t your to-do list!).
Being busy isn’t a crime, but finishing each day with a clear conscience and knowing that you’re on top of your work is a fantastic feeling.
The opposite will leave you feeling consistently stressed, put strains on your relationships and almost certainly result in failure.
Use my tips above, and your to-do list won’t become the master of you - I promise.