Why You Can’t Get Anything Done

Jessica Lewis

The majority of us have some type of goal for our future. Whether that be making progress in our business or side hustles all of us have the need for creating a basic productivity system. Most of us have a basic structure laid out for this, usually involving a to-do list of some kind, so what’s the problem? Our fast-moving world has trained us to believe that we need to constantly be working, and if we aren’t then, and if we aren’t then we aren’t acting as productive members of society.

With the explosion in the productivity space over the last decade, it’s easy to look at the gurus and think “these guys have it completely figured out.” While that may be true to some degree, as I dug deeper into their systems I began to see a pattern: they are able to separate which items of top priority from less significant tasks. There will always be an abundance of tasks on our to-do lists, but there’s rarely enough time in the twelve-ish working hours we have each day to cross everything off.

Today we’re going to dive into a few techniques for proper to-do list organization so we can attempt to remove just a little bit of stress from our lives.

My Toxic Relationship With My To Do List:

Previously, and sometimes currently, I had a very toxic relationship with my to-do list. I would overload myself with a combination of a combination of tasks with no way of separating what items needed my immediate attention from the ones that could waitwith no way to separate between these two. This created the problem of having no idea where to start, and finding myself not being able to cross off as much as I felt I should, which led to me feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

Life throws us daily curveballs and endless amounts of work pile up on our desks. Maybe we are given little to no time to prepare an emergency presentation for a client, or our significant other calls us with something that absolutely cannot wait (I wouldn’t necessarily know from personal experience, but I’ve always been told “happy wife happy life”). I had to throw that last one in there just for the laugh.

Being self-employed I’ve never consistently had anyone else giving me a set schedule or deadlines to finish projects; it fell on me to create my own schedule and I was not exactly good at it for a long time. I rarely used a calendar, I would pile loads of tasks into Todoist, and I would beat myself up when I couldn’t get everything done. I became enthralled in the world of productivity well before I actually created my current system and I convinced myself that the productivity influencers I looked up to went to bed every night with a completely empty task list and the slate wiped clean.

Obviously, this was an unhealthy cycle and detrimental to my mental health. I had to take a step back and realize my approach had been skewed for a long time — I began to experiment and tweak my system until I found something that suited me.

Finding Some New Techniques:

To begin the process of transforming my approach to productivity I had to start by analyzing what creators meant when they spoke about their own organizational systems for life. After watching every Thomas Frank and Ali Abdaal video I started to notice a pattern. Most of them set up their productivity system to compensate for their desire to procrastinate. Not to call anyone out, just making an observation, no shade intended.

There were two major pieces of information I took from the productivity gurus. The first is the idea of breaking up our tasks into different time slots each day to maximize efficiency. Remember the word efficiency, we’ll come back to it in just a little bit. The second piece of the puzzle was deciding what needs addressing immediately and what could wait. I’ve developed my own approach to this system that has helped me improve efficiency, and eliminate stress.

My System for Maximum Effort:

To begin to reshape my system I had to decide how to separate tasks by their importance. A little tip for my fellow Todoist fans; you can color coordinate different tasks by their priority level to give yourself a visual representation of what are the most important tasks for each day. For me, I’ve chosen to only allow one daily task to enter the Red zone (also known as Priority 1 in Todoist). You may have heard of this before, but the technique I’m employing is known as the “Daily Highlight”.

The idea of the Daily Highlight gives me the freedom of choosing which task I must do each day, and then categorizing the other tasks as a “should do” or a “might do” classification. By incorporating this tool I find myself accomplishing every important item, and the added organization has netted me more time to work on lower priority tasks ahead of schedule.

The second step to reshaping my system was understanding the difference between a time-sensitive task and a “whenever” task. In the case of filing my taxes (yuck) that definitely belongs in the time-sensitive category; however, something like removing unnecessary files from my google drive won’t have major consequences if I don’t get to it immediately. If you haven’t figured it out I’m listing items on my current to-do list, tell me how it feels to be my new accountability partner.

The final piece of my successful to-do list system is setting up my daily tasks based on the estimated time needed for completion. In my experience tasks with a longer completion time generally require much more brainpower, therefore I prioritize those items earlier in the day when my creativity and focus are at peak levels. Shorter tasks, such as clearing out my google drive can wait until any point in the day due to the low level of focus and time it will require. The point is to maximize my energy stores to be able to get the most done in the most efficient amount of time. You won’t find me editing a video at 8 PM, my brain doesn’t have the fortitude for that anymore.

The Benefits of This Process:

The first benefit I’ve seen since incorporating this new system has been a noticeable reduction in my stress levels. When I was just piling my tasks onto my to-do list with no system for completion I found myself never finishing anything. I would spend my days spinning my wheels trying to figure out where to start and eventually that would just lead to doing absolutely nothing. Now that I have implemented the tools discussed in this article such as DH and separating time-sensitive from a “whenever” I’m able to finish all of my important tasks earlier than expected with plenty of mental energy to continue working throughout the day.

The ironic part since I have implemented this system is I find myself ending the day with fewer remaining tasks. By setting out my one “red zone” or highly important task for the day I have noticed a significant decrease in my stress levels, and my level of productivity has soared as a result. I’m well on my way to hitting my goals for 2022, and I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how we’re going to get there!

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