PRO TIPS | How to Get Through Your Leadership To-Do List

publication date: Sep 21, 2023
author/source: Kathy Archer

You have a precious break in the day so you look at your to-do list.

All tasks seem important, but you scan the list, looking for the priority items you can knock off in a few minutes. As you glance at each item, you note:

  • I don't have time for that.
  • I still have time to do that later.
  • I'm waiting for Angela's part. I can't do that.
  • That's not even my job. I don't know why I still do it.
  • I'm not in the right headspace to do that one.
  • I don't even know how to do that.
  • Ugh, I hate doing that!

Your to-do list is an emotional roller coaster

In the time it takes to scan the list, your emotions move from overwhelmed to anxious, then annoyed and doubtful, ending with discouraged.

Pushing the to-do list aside, you begin scrolling through your inbox without realizing you've avoided the list and, as a result, get further behind and more disheartened

I get it. I've been there many, many times! In fact, if you are like most leaders, you have a lengthy to-do list that haunts you into the wee hours of the morning and, honestly, will never get done.

Why do we never get through our to-do list?

REASON # 1—it's disorganized, and more of a holding place than a completion place. Your to-do list is:

  • a storage place for everything you should, might, and want to do, but without delineation between the items,
  • a bunch of projects and tasks all jumbled together without any indication of which tasks belong with which projects and in what order,
  • not only your tasks but embedded in between are things others need to do.

REASON # 2—Second, we look at the list as items that need time to be completed, and we blame lack of time as the enemy.
It's way more complicated than that. Look at your to-do list and consider:

  • Who else is involved in the tasks
  • The level of complexity of the tasks
  • How confident you feel about taking on the tasks
  • What else is happening around you: distractions, projects, clients, what's going on in your personal life, and, of course, world issues
  • Your energy level, physical well-being, mental clarity and emotional capacity

Without taking all of that into consideration, our to-do list becomes an impossible challenge, and time becomes the enemy. But time is getting a bad rap. The time available to complete tasks is only one small factor in managing our to-do list.

3 steps to managing your to-do list

1. Create order and awareness—Start by prioritizing your to-do list into some semblance of order, that way, your to-do list can become a tool working for you instead of a threat against you.

2. Let go of inappropriate expectations—Shift your mindset from believing your to-do list is a list of things that need doing to a holding place for projects and tasks.

3. Move a few key items to each day's agenda, plan or priorities—When you only have three things to get done each day, you will check them off with greater speed and satisfaction.

But, we are still overlooking something—the emotions you felt when you scanned the list. Your emotions play a big role in productivity

Jobs you hate doing can make you feel unmotivated, and there is a good chance you'll struggle to get them done. Tasks that you don't know how to do can leave you feeling unsure about where to start, and have a way of rearing imposter syndrome. When you know it's someone else's job, not yours, your resentment may get in the way of getting it done.

We can choose our responses better by slowing down and getting a better awareness of what we are experiencing and how our emotions distract us from getting done what matters most.

Leadership Development Coach and author Kathy Archer provides ongoing training to grow women leaders in Canada's Non-Profit Organizations.

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