Tackling To Do Lists Productively


To Do List

Jaime tried and tried to get things done each day. Often times though, she’d realize she simply forgot to do all of them!



To do lists


To help, she began to write to-do lists. They seemed to work alright-at least she remembered what she was supposed to do-but it seemed like the list just kept getting longer! Jaime felt that for every one thing she crossed off the list, she added five. It was getting overwhelming! How could she tackle the list, get some things done, and actually feel like she had accomplished something?


Jamie tried getting more motivated. Maybe by setting a goal of getting 3-5 things crossed off her list each day, she’d actually feel like she was getting somewhere!


She tried it. It helped but she still felt like she was floating in an ocean of never-ending tasks. She knew she had to tweak things some more.


Jamie tried another tactic. She decided to go for the tasks she really wanted to do first. She would get one task she felt like doing accomplished, and would work on another necessary evil next. That helped a bit too but that ocean was still there.


She then decided to try yet another tactic. What if she got all the easy tasks done first and did the bigger tasks after that? At least she’d get a lot more done!


This helped her in getting a larger number of tasks done but Jaime knew she put off the more difficult, challenging, or larger tasks until she absolutely couldn’t procrastinate anymore. At times she wound up feeling really rushed to get those big jobs done under the wire and ended up not doing them in the way she would have preferred. Even worse, she sometimes ended up getting things done late. Better late than never she feebly told herself!


Feeling ever more frustrated, Jaime contacted this writer for some coaching. She wanted to know how to conquer her never-ending list.


Breaking it down


I asked Jaime to get a piece of paper and divide it into four squares:


Important and Urgent: Important but Not Urgent:
Urgent but Not Important:
   Neither Urgent or Important:


We discussed what kinds of tasks to put in each area despite Jaime feeling like some areas were obvious.


Urgent and Important

For example, under the Urgent and Important area, we decided that tasks here should be her top important priorities for the day or the week depending on how often she wanted to do her list.


Important but Not Urgent

Items under the important list included things that were coming down the pipe–things that were important but that she had some time before they had to become priorities.


Urgent but Not Important

Jaime was confused about the Urgent but Not Important list. If it wasn’t important, why have it there at all? Through some discussion we decided that this area would include things like:


• Water plants

• Pick up dry cleaning

• Thaw meat for tomorrow’s dinner

• Sweep front entry way


These were things that needed to be done right away but wouldn’t matter that much if they weren’t. If Jaime didn’t water her plants for several days after they needed watering, they might die, but if she didn’t get it done today, it wouldn’t be earth shattering. Nor would the other three tasks. The dry cleaning could wait a day or two. If she didn’t put the meat in the fridge to thaw, she could always defrost it in the microwave tomorrow. If the front entry way didn’t get swept, she might feel annoyed by the dirt, but in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t so important.



Neither Urgent Nor Important: The Nice to Get Done Stuff

What about the final area: Neither Urgent or Important? Jaime decided to re-name that area to Nice to Get Done. That made more sense to her. Here she included tasks that would be value-added like:


• Label the seasonal bins

• Buy some new towels

• Hang more pictures in the house

• Paint my nails


She knew that adding labels to the bins would make it faster to find things, she wanted new towels but the ones they had were good enough, she wanted to hang some pictures but the house still looked nice, and her nails would be nicer painted but it wasn’t important.


After our meeting, Jaime reported she was feeling much more focused and productive and was getting more things done. Why don’t you give this time management system a try? I’d be interest to hear your comments!