Tackling Your To Do List


It’s the beginning of my work day in a new year and I’m once again face-to-face with my to do list. I must have been optimistic in what I can complete because this one is quite lengthy. When I write out my to do list, I often feel pleased with myself and initially believe I'll have no problem completing everything on time.

But, when I’m faced with the list the next morning, this is not the case. 

I look at the list and feel overwhelmed. Why did I do this to myself? 

Can you relate to my experience?

Try, try again . . . and then try some more.
I have experimented with a variety of self-management exercises to coax myself into getting started on the to do list: prioritize, just start with one task, take frequent breaks, give myself little rewards. I assume you have your own productivity toolkit.

So here I was, with an enormous list of tasks: year-end planning and budgeting, reconciliation, tax planning, and board meeting preparation. On one level, I wanted to do them. After all, completing the items on the list is how I earn money. This is of course, very important to my well-being. But, I wasn’t finding this motivator inspiring enough to get rid of the overwhelming feeling blocking me from completing my tasks.

I decided to do a self-audit of how I was taking care of myself. Face it, if you aren’t in the right mental place, your list will only look more daunting. I found that my self-care discipline was on point. I was getting regular sleep, exercise, connecting with loved ones via Zoom and the phone, and eating (mostly) healthy.  

With my self-care going well, why did my to do list still overwhelm me?

Practice What We Teach
At Interaction Associates, we deliver a program called How to Lead with Purpose and Empathy. In this program, we explore how collaborative leaders can inspire performance by clarifying their ordinate mission and enrolling others in its pursuit through authentic engagement and empathy.

It’s easy to lose touch with purpose in the busy-ness of life. Purpose is the reason we do something, or why something exists. Leaders who are guided by purpose can articulate the answer to the question “why?” and enroll others in realizing that purpose. 

According to a study described in Harvard Business Review, less than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of individual purpose. When I applied this to myself, I also realized that I was feeling a strong sense of purpose maybe 1 in 5 workdays, or 20%, like the study says.

That brought me to the central question: If I am the leader of my life, what is my purpose? What reason or reasons will speak to my feelings and thoughts, e.g., “Ugh, why don’t I want to do this work” and “OMG, not another Zoom meeting!”

So what is my purpose as a leader? It took me about ten minutes to reflect and write:

  • To inspire learning and catalyze personal transformation
  • To help others get in touch with the spirit of service
  • To make things just a little better for people 

Amazingly, I felt refreshed by the exercise. Not intimidated. Not deterred. Rather, I felt inspired. I had spent a few moments being in service to myself and was ready to tackle my to do list.

Here’s how you can overcome the negative feelings toward your own list:

  1. Hone your mission: Spend a few minutes remembering what you really care about. Write it down.
  2. Lean toward inclusion: Don’t resist the thoughts telling you that you don’t want to work or are otherwise disengaged. Invite these thoughts into the conversation.
  3. Listen as an Ally: Listen to these thoughts and acknowledge the deeper aspirations and concerns you’re telling yourself. These thoughts can be transformative and motivating.
  4. Express Appreciation: Thank yourself for seeing the big picture and getting back in touch with what matters.  

This was a refreshing exercise for me and helped me with overcome the negativity overwhelmed feelings when looking at my to do list. Perhaps this exercise will be helpful for you too. If you're looking for more training like How to Lead with Purpose and Empathy, check out our complete list of Action Accelerators. These virtual, instructor-led programs are great solutions for virtual team members looking to stay connected and productive.

As for writing this blog post, CHECK!

About Jen Cebrero

As a member of Interaction Associates’ senior management team, Jen’s mission is to oversee the daily operations of the accounting team, monitor and analyze accounting data, and provide accurate financial reports.