When talking to people about how they manage their tasks and whether or not they keep a to-do list, inevitably the conversation turns to how their lists get too long and overwhelming. When that happens, many people get frustrated and just give up on the list.

The most troubling aspect of maintaining a to-do list is the annoyance of the lingering task that just stays on the list and never gets done. When you break it down, there are really only a few reasons why certain tasks linger longer than others. Here’s how you can get rid of those lingering tasks.

JUST DO IT

Some tasks are important but for whatever reason, we just don’t want to do it. We just keep procrastinating and avoid the task altogether. In “Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” Brian Tracy popularizes the old adage that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. He suggests that you should take your most important but dreaded task and just attack it, get it done and move on.

DELETE IT

Successfully maintaining a to-do list is not just about completing items but making decisions about what’s most important and also what should be removed from the list. Sometimes you add a task to your list with all good intentions of getting it done, but over time it lingers on the list because it’s just not that important. In that case, it’s OK and should just be deleted from your list. If it’s important enough, you can always add it back to your list later.

BREAK IT DOWN

Other tasks stay on your list because they are just too big and overwhelming to tackle. In this case, break it down and create a task just for the first step. Once that’s complete, you can then create a task for the next step. For example, if you added a task to “Plan the Party” I bet it never gets done. Instead, start with some of the following:

  • Set Date for the Party
  • Create Guest List
  • Draft Party Invitation
  • Select Menu

You’ll find that you will have much more success tackling and completing the smaller, quicker and easier tasks. Similarly, instead of creating a task to “Read a Book,” you can break it down into specific chapters.

Keep in mind, the magic of a to-do list is in checking things off the list and not letting tasks linger.

TRY THIS OUT:  Look at your to-do list and review the tasks that have been on your list for over two weeks. First, decide which ones you can just delete. Then, start to break down the tasks that are too big. Finally, if it’s important make it your top priority for tomorrow and just get it done.

After 25 years in the corporate world, working at Lotus Development, Ernst & Young, The Weather Channel and Play On! Sports, Monisha Longacre has founded her own company, Productivity101 and created priorigami: the art of productivity. Her mission is to provide simple, actionable and easy-to-use tools to help busy adults track, prioritize and complete tasks, to better manage their time and become more productive. Her goal is for priorigami to become the "FitBit" for productivity to help people lead more meaningful lives.

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