Master Your To-Do List

Master Your To-Do List
by David Fazzari, PhD

The first thing people usually say when I tell them I help patients with procrastination is, ‘You treat that in therapy?’ Absolutely! And the starting point for tackling procrastination is often developing an organizational plan. Here are nine steps to help you get organized.

1. Create a to-do list. Any time we want to make a change in our life we first need to define the problem. For the procrastinator, a usable to-do list is often the problem. Take all those post-it’s and different scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them and put everything on a master list.

2. Tame the to-do list. A common issue with to-do lists is that they can become enormous, which in turn can make them seem overwhelming. Go through your list and break thinks down in to 3 categories: Needs to happen today, this week, and eventually.

3. Break it down. If some of the items in your list seem overwhelming, identify the very first step, preferable something you can make some progress on in an hour or so.

4. Action plan. Ok, so now you have your prioritized to-do list. Now you need to put it into action. Get a planner, if you don’t have one already, and always carry it with you. Take the most urgent items off your to-do list and block out a time to do them during the day. For example, 9-10am, review to-do list and action plan, return phone calls, 10-11am search job postings, etc.

5. Review. Look at your planner and to-do list at least once a day and make sure they are up to date and reflect your current priorities.

6. Be realistic. Many times procrastinators overfill their daily action plan. Then when they find themselves falling short and feeling disappointed. Instead, be realistic and conservative in your estimates for how long things will take. This will help make this process a mastery experience instead of feeling like a failure.

7. Out of sight, out of mind. We’ve all thought “I’ll do it tomorrow” only to find out the following week that we forgot all about it. Write everything down you need to do and make sure you scan your calendar at the end of the day and transfer anything that didn’t get done to a new time slot.

8. Trouble shoot. If you find you’re having trouble sticking to your plan, spend some time trying to understand what got in the way of success. Were there too many things packed into one day? Does anxiety get in the way of taking the steps listed here?

9. Reward. While getting things done will be rewarding in itself, don’t forget to reward yourself for each step you take. When you finish something, reward yourself by taking a break, going to a favorite restaurant, or even just saying “Wow, I did a great job finishing that!”

Article originally printed in the newsletter of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy