It’s easy to get overwhelmed by your to-do list. If it’s anything like mine, what you actually get when you write it all down is a never-ending list of errands to run, work to be done, housework to do and friends expecting you to put in an appearance sooner or later. Home improvement projects. Personal projects. Etcetera. Etcetera.

When the list gets long enough, just the idea of trying to get from beginning to end is enough to make you squirm. Or decide to take the day off and hitchhike to Hawaii. Whatever. The point is, eventually you’ll end up overwhelmed. That’s where the trouble begins.

Prioritizing Your To-Do List

The first thing you want to do is prioritize your to-do list. If you have more to do than time to do it, ask yourself what really needs to be done. Do you have to go to dinner at your aunt’s tonight, or can you reschedule for a more convenient time? Take anything off your list that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. You can come back to it when your head’s a little less likely to explode.

Accept that you probably won’t get through everything today (unless you can) and that you’ll be carrying some items over to tomorrow (unless you won’t). Put the things that have to be done today on top. Include pieces of long-term projects here; shunting those off until tomorrow is just going to  put you farther behind.

Now, put the most important thing on that list on top. Note that what’s most important isn’t necessarily what’s most urgent. Maybe you have to have a certain report in by the end of the day, but if you don’t set up a meeting with your team this morning you might not get a chance to later. Do what’s most important first, even if it’s not necessarily what’s most urgent.

Once that “most important thing” is done, move on to the next most important thing. And the next. And the next. By starting with your heaviest job when you’re at your best (preferably early in the morning) you’ll be able to get more done, more efficiently, and have a better chance of making it to the end of your daily list by the end of the day.

Starting Big Cuts Back on Procrastination

Saving your light work for the end of the day, when you’re tired and aren’t performing your best, doesn’t just guarantee that more important projects will get your full, undivided attention. It also guarantees that a two hour project won’t turn into a four hour one. Trying to do something labor-intensive when you’re tired leads to daydreaming, dawdling, procrastinating (remember that one more cup of coffee we were going to give up on?) and dragging out simple tasks far longer than they need to be dragged out for.

Pull it up. Get it done. Go home at the end of the day.

Do you do your most important tasks first, or do you save your “heavy” load for the end of the day?

Just tuning in? Don’t forget to join us for Part 1: Power-Up Your Morning and Part 2: Learning to Start Your Day Early.

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When I first started writing this post, I had every intention of calling it “Learning to Get Out of Bed”. Because really, isn’t that big, warm, soft, comfortable bed the biggest obstacle you face when it comes to  maximizing your productivity by starting your day early?

Then I heard the melodious sound of my roommate’s shower running at noon and realized that no, no it’s not. Just getting out of bed in the morning isn’t enough to get your day started. (They’ve been up since seven.) You have to actually motivate yourself to step away from the email and the television, put down that cup of coffee and get moving.

But we’ll still start with learning to get out of bed!

Learning to Wake Up Early

For those of you who think training your body to get up early is just a matter of setting your alarm clock an hour early, I say…good luck. You’re going to need it.

Myth: Going to bed earlier will let you get more sleep so you can get up earlier.

In theory,going to bed early works great. After eight hours of sleep, you wake up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to go, right? Problem is, if you’re used to going to bed at midnight and you try and go to sleep at seven, guess what’s going to happen?

You’re going to lay there for 3-4 hours before you finally fall asleep.

Your body needs different amounts of sleep to recharge, so here’s what experts suggest. Go to bed when you’re sleepy (but not overtired), then get up at the same time. Every day. And no matter how tired you still are, you have to drag yourself out of bed when the alarm goes off. If you tend to sleep through your alarm, get one of the annoying buzzing ones that put an earthquake to shame. If you constantly hit “Snooze” get something like Clocky the Moving Alarm clock to make you get out of bed.

Whatever you do, don’t leave your clock where you can reach it without having to get up. You’ll slap it off in your sleep, and it’s all downhill from there.  

Getting Started Once You’re Up

shadow, computer

Avoid staring at the computer screen when you're still a shadow of your bright-eyed, bushy-tailed self.

Getting out of bed is half the challenge. The other is to motivate yourself to get started once you’re up. Word of advice: Don’t check your email, surf the web or hit social media sites while you drink your morning coffee. An intended fifteen minute coffee break can easily turn into 3-4 lost hours if you’re not very, very careful.

Instead, get out of bed, exercise (even if it’s just a ten minute walk around the block), and head straight into the shower. Even if you’re working from home, make yourself get a shower and get dressed. This cues your brain into the fact that it’s time for the day to start. Grab coffee and breakfast, and sit down to eat without getting sucked into any other activities. I find this is a good time to make my to-do list for the day so I know where to get started.

As soon as your breakfast is done, put your plates in the sink and get started on the first item on your list. It should all roll up from there.

Having trouble sticking to your to-do list? Try tackling it 20 minutes at a time! Tune in to Part 3 to learn how to prioritize your to-do list…and why you’re probably doing it wrong.

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