Distracted? 4 Steps to Conquer Your To Do List

By Georgia Bomgardner, PhD

Struggling to keep up with your day to day? Feeling forgetful or overwhelmed by your to-do list? Maybe you are someone who sits down to work only to find that your task list is going to take you much longer than expected. Often, it feels easiest to just avoid the to-do list, but it’s easy to see why that approach can create more difficulties down the road. 

It happens to us all, some of us more than others! Our world is designed to distract us – you may have even gotten distracted by a text, email, or some random sound or thought while reading this blog post!   When we are easily distracted, whether it’s because of our external world or our internal thoughts, any to-do list can feel massive. One way to tackle this is through task analysis and time estimation.  Here’s how you do it.

1. List out all of your tasks.  I know, this can seem overwhelming! But you’re already overwhelmed, so it’s better to know what you are actually facing.  You may even realize that you have done some level of catastrophizing and your tasks have felt more encompassing than they actually are.  Or, you may realize you have more to do than you thought; either way, you are learning more and increasing your awareness, which helps you know where to start.  If you have work or personal tasks, list those. If it’s homework, list that.  Once you have your list, prioritize the list. What is due first? What is most important to complete? It doesn’t hurt to write down the due dates next to your items. 

2. Break down your tasks into smaller chunks.  Often, this breakdown can help us see the reality of what we are doing and give us actionable tasks and baby steps instead of feeling like we have to do it all at once or we won’t get it done at all. For example, if you have to write a report for work (or school), what are some of the steps? Research? Talk to a certain person? Draft a report? Proofread? Create a presentation based on the report? Only you will know this. 

3. Estimate the time it will take to complete each task. If it’s something you have done before, you might have a good idea of how long it will take. But if it’s something new, you may have to guess. That’s okay – this practice will also help you know how to adjust in the future.  If you know that you get easily distracted or find particular tasks especially difficult, give yourself more time than you might think is necessary. Then, if you don’t finish within that time, you have “extra” time. If you go over that time, you know that in the future you need to plan more time. 

4. Assess your available time. This can involve evaluating your calendar to see when you can squeeze in these tasks. Now that you know the time it will take to finish each task, you can find that time on your calendar. You may start a project on a Monday that you don’t finish, but if you are planning your time and prioritizing tasks, you can pick back up on your next scheduled time. Do your best to plan for these times, as that makes it more likely that you will be able to follow through.  

As you complete all of these steps, I invite you to do so while practicing self-compassion. If this is a new approach for you, it will take time to get the hang of it. It might feel like it takes a lot of time to just break things down, but the more you do it, the easier and more natural that becomes. Remember, any new skill we want to learn takes practice – whether it’s playing an instrument, learning a sport, or figuring out how to manage our time differently.  

If you think you would benefit from support for things like organization, time management, material management, or planning, I am currently accepting referrals for evaluations. Click here to find out more.