Recently we heard this from a Nozbe user:

Hi. With Nozbe I became much more productive. So productive, that I have the feeling that what I have to do never ends. I do so many things that before I would have left out and when something is done, there’s always many things to be done again. So it never stops. Would be great to have a blog post to discuss this topic, have your point of view and tips to continue to have a work-life balance when you have such a powerful productivity tool in your hands :-).

And so, here are 10 ways to deal with a never-ending to-do list. Follow these tips and enjoy some more free time.

1. Practice essentialism

Follow Greg McKeown’s advice and focus on the most important things: “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential." Don’t waste your time on tasks and projects that don’t really count.

Try to choose the most important goals you want to achieve in your professional and private life. If you can’t choose just one for each of these areas, choose two or three. Knowing them will definitely help you to step back from some of the projects you are involved with. Try to let go of the ones that don’t take you any closer to your goals or aren’t related to any of them. Chop, chop!

2. Declutter your list

Go through your to-do list and for each of the tasks ask yourself: “Does this really need to get done?” “What will happen if I don’t do it?” Chances are you’ll identify some things that are so low in priority that they’ll never actually get done.

3. Always finish what you start

Beginning, processing, stopping, losing focus, forgetting things, restarting, gathering needed info and materials again, getting into a flow again - sound familiar? Having to shift your cognitive or attentional resources to a completely different topic and then returning to a previous task is totally counterproductive.

In order not to lose focus, divide your big tasks into smaller ones and try to do your best to complete what you’ve started. Finishing your tasks in one go isn’t just an effective way to work, it’s also a source of satisfaction. :-)

4. Communicate effectively

Remember to communicate your needs and thoughts briefly but exhaustively when talking and writing. If you provide all the information needed in your first e-mail then you’ll get a reply like: “OK. Thank you.” If you miss something or you can’t be bothered to explain an issue they will get lost and ask questions. Your e-mail exchange will have no end… Formulate your messages so that there are no doubts or questions left.

5. Plan your day

Yeah, we all know it’s good to plan… but we might not actually do it on a daily basis, right? Try to plan your day in the morning or even the night before. List all the important things you need to do - choose several tasks that will really make your day count and take you closer to your big goals. Once you get them done you will push your projects forward and that’s enough!

When planning, remember to schedule enough time for your family and friends, unexpected things, current affairs, project management and petty tasks that need to happen every day no matter how hard we try to become essentialists. That leads us to…

6. Plan pessimistically

First, schedule all that can be scheduled - add dates and prioritize your tasks. Don’t try to schedule yourself too tightly - you’ll only stress yourself out and feel disappointed. Adding time cushions to every task is a great idea - a 25% cushion for the time you allot for each task in your schedule will be enough. Don’t worry: you’re not alone - most people underestimate the amount of time their work takes.

7. Use categories to group tasks

When planning and scheduling, also pay attention to how you can batch some of your tasks. Your work will run smoother if you dedicate blocks of time to tasks that require similar resources or tools. This way you will minimize distractions and maximize efficiency. If you work with Nozbe, use Categories to group similar tasks.

8. Set your own rules

As David Allen says: “You really need to find your own work-life balance, probably with the help of others. The important thing is to ignore the shoulds – the shoulds that comes from other people or from you internalising others’ mindsets. You have to rely on your own intuition.”

Setting some rules will make you feel safer and more confident. Sooner or later most of the people you work with will learn your “standards” and naturally respect them.

Examples: “She always does her most important tasks around 10 a.m. - it’s better not to disturb her then,” “He picks up his kids from school at 4:30 p.m. every day so he leaves the office at 4 p.m. sharp. Delegating an urgent task to him at 3:45 p.m. doesn’t make any sense,” etc.

9. Set your end-of-the-workday routine

Try to finish your day at the same time every day and make sure your colleagues and clients know when that is. Do everything to leave work at work, too. Before you call it a day, write down all the outstanding tasks and work-related things that are on your mind in order not to think about them in your free time. You can also water your office plants, clear your desk or write your achievements / comments / ideas in your diary if you have one. Then just turn off your computer and leave your office.

If you have to take work home with you, you should try to confine it to a certain area of your home – and be able to close the door on it.

10. Say “no”

…diplomatically and politely, but still: “no.” If a “yes” would make you run behind schedule, let the requester know about that and graciously refuse. In case the requester is your boss or your client you can still be assertive, just frame your “no” as “that would be difficult, given my current commitments, so let’s find another way to work it out.”

David Allen has a very practical tip on this one: “If you tend to say yes without thinking when you’re asked to do something extra, stall. Don’t answer straight away. Say you’ll get back to the person asking, then use that time to think clearly about whether to say yes or no. If you want to say yes, fine. But if you want to say no, say no and keep saying it. Don’t justify your actions or give excuses. There’s no need to be nasty or rude.”

P.S. Don’t be a martyr

Stop acting like you’re the one who does everything around here. I know that some people make themselves feel busy and significant this way but it can be really irritating for their colleagues and loved ones. Most people are “martyrs” because they need the approval of others.

Author: Magda of Nozbe marketing team