What to do first? Oh right, make my to-do list for today. That will be #1 on the list. That way, when I finish my list, I can cross off item #1.
Great, but then what? Now there’s actual stuff to be done.
Well the key, I think, to crossing off items on your to-do list is in how you make your list. Many times lists will be filled with big plans such as:
- Do the taxes
- Clean out the garage
- Go grocery shopping
On the surface, these items may seem simple enough, but how does it feel when you look at them? Do you feel energized, excited that you’ll be finishing up all of them before lunch? Or do you think, WOW, I’ll be lucky if I cross off anything today, and feel a bit overwhelmed?
Right, I’d feel discouraged as well. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just has to be broken down into easy do-able steps. That way you can cross off each step of the bigger task individually. Let’s look at the daunting tasks above more closely.
- Do the taxes
How does one begin this process? Even if you have an accountant who does taxes for you, there are mini-steps you have to do. You need to get all your receipts and forms together. You need to know what deductions you are able to claim. You need all the pertinent names, addresses, and possibly social security numbers of your employers, dependents, charities, mortgage companies and banks, and so on. Each of these could be mini- steps on your to-do list. Let’s do the next one, too.
- Clean out the garage
What’s involved here? Your items may differ, but essentially it may include having boxes or storage bins to organize like things into, having plenty of garbage bags handy, as well as boxes for donated items. You may work in sections; clean up tool drawers, hang bicycles on walls, throw away damaged boxes, empty out the moving boxes that have been stacked for the last 2 (or 10) years. You get the idea. Break down the deed into as many steps as you can think of, and write each one on your list.
Let’s take a look at a new, longer but more approachable list. Or several lists, actually. If you break down a tough project into more than say 10 items, it might be better to make it its own list. So here’s our new To-Do List:
Things to Cross Off (once completed)
- Make my list
- Write down items needed from grocery store
- Double check refrigerator and pantry for possible needed items
- List possible meal plans for the week
- Add items from meal plan needed
- Check the store sale ad for good buys to add to list
- Assemble coupons, recyclable grocery bags, checkbook and car keys
- Brainstorm any other errands that can be done en route to grocery store- add to list
- Spend a half hour in garage organizing thoughts on what needs to be done. Start a list
- Purchase 5 storage bins for garage clean up
- Take a break with a cup of tea (or a beer…) after completing 6 items on the list
- Pull together medical receipts and insurance papers in a tax file
- Gather all the income forms, W-2, 1099, Dividends… into another tax file
- Obtain necessary tax forms from the IRS, the post office or tax software
And now, go ahead and cross off item #1. You deserve it.
Now the list has quite a few more items on it, but when looking at individual tasks, they certainly seem more achievable, don’t they? Some people may benefit by allowing a certain amount of time for each task, as a guideline, as I did in #9. That way, you set up the expectation that things will not take all day, and better your chances of staying on task. Be realistic, and flexible. You may add or delete items on your list as you go along. But you should find yourself happily crossing off numbers and feeling a sense of accomplishment fairly quickly.
See? That was easier than you thought, right? I know, some days are better than others. That’s why there is a built-in reward (see #11). And you can be creative. Kids do so much better with larger tasks if they have mini-steps too. Get the whole family involved. And good luck; hopefully you’ll be getting a tax refund, so you can buy more stuff to put in the garage!