3 Tips to Take Control of Your To-Do List

The ability to focus is one key factor that sets apart the top performers in society. The demand for our attention from numerous sources limits our ability to execute any one task. Most people’s performance doesn’t suffer from a lack of effort, but from trying to do too much at one time. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg understands the need to focus on the most important tasks in his day. When asked why he wears the same style t-shirt every day he responded, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community… I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

In the book Organize Tomorrow Today, Jason Selk put together a strategy for handling what he deems our “channel capacity,” which in short, is our capacity for handling multiple tasks at the same time. He puts this simply, “The best time management plan in the world, or the best calendar, or the best device, or the best app, doesn’t address the fundamental problem of channel capacity. If technology were the answer, success would be as simple as flipping a switch…. Fitting more pieces into the puzzle won’t make you more successful.” He goes on to explain the way to embrace and maximize your channel capacity is to “learn how to make decisions, establish priorities, and light your own motivating fire instead of continuing to chase the counter-intuitive concept of multitasking.”

In our experience, those who enjoy the most success are the ones who do the best job prioritizing their day and accomplishing the right tasks, not the most tasks. The following are three quick tips that will help you make the most of your day and maximize your success:

  1. Write Out Your To-Do List
    One way to focus on the right tasks is to write out your to-do list. The act of writing, rather than just typing it out or keeping it in your head activates the Reticular Activating System (RAS) area of your brain, which is responsible for filtering information into the “instant access” and “deep storage” folder of your mind. It tells your brain that the information is important and needs to be kept at the forefront. Writing out your list also primes your subconscious mind to get to work, which is why you may hear of songwriters and comedians keeping a notepad by the bed to jot down lyrics or jokes that come to them in the middle of the night. 
  2. Focus on Tasks that Support Your Future
    An important priority should be items that have the greatest return for your FUTURE. Most people make a mistake of prioritizing what will reward them in the present but will do nothing for their future. One example of how people will choose present-based satisfaction is eating a poor diet of junk food, rather than choosing a disciplined that will give you future/ long-term health benefits.
  3. Choose Three Tasks to Prioritize Each Day
    It doesn’t matter how organized, efficient, and energized you are. You will never get everything done every single day. However, you can resolve to always get to your most important tasks and conversations. Create a list that has the 3 most important tasks, and label one of them as “1 Must.” By planning your short, critical to-do list today, your decision-making will be much easier, and your time will be used more efficiently. The best way to promote action is to identify just one thing, then ATTACK it. Picking the most important to-do item creates the momentum. Remember, a body in motion, tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest. 

For more tips on organizing your day, read Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk

How to Take Control of Your Emotions

Your emotional capacity is linked to the amount of uncertainty you can handle at any one time. The ability to control your emotions and use logic to drive your decision-making is a valuable tool for any professional. Warren Buffet once said, “If you cannot control your emotions, you cannot control your money.”

Much of your capacity to handle uncertainty has to do with maturity. Maturity is often misconstrued as a matter of age but it’s entirely a matter of characteristics you employ. Immediate gratification mindset and not having a long-term perspective are linked to immaturity, and therefore a low emotional capacity. The good news is that you can exercise your emotional capacity to grow it and learn to handle increasingly uncertain situations. 

Physically Take Control:

The quickest and easiest way to control your emotions is by controlling your breathing when you feel a strong emotional reaction to something. Slowing down your breathing and inhaling deep, relaxing breaths will force your body to slow down your heart rate and calm your mind when it wants to panic. This is the best, first step for emotional control because it teaches you to control your mind by controlling your body first.

Spiritual Strength:

Most people find their identity in something beyond their control. It’s something eternal and unchanging. Most of the time, people get their identity by what is valued in society. For women, this could be their beauty, and for men, it could be their performance. This is a deeper topic than we can cover in this blog, but you may want to consider exploring where you obtain and retain your value from. Once you determine what you value most, determine if it is something beyond your control or if it’s something based on a superficial foundation. 

Mental Toughness: 

To get through short-term emotional storms, narrow your focus so you don’t get overwhelmed with the future. Sometimes all we have the capacity to handle is getting through the day, or the hour, instead of the end of the week or the end of the month. This allows you to stay present in the moment and give your mind a chance to tackle the task at hand and not let your emotions cause chaos. 

Becoming emotionally stable and taking control of your emotional intelligence can be very similar to becoming financially stable and taking control of your budget. If you’re trying to save up money to buy a house, it’s much easier to focus on achieving small goals and setting aside a certain amount each month rather than looking at your larger end goal and getting overwhelmed. (For more on budgeting, check out our 6 Budgeting Tips for Beginners here: )

It always helps to consciously think about your goals and the reasons driving your behavior. It may not be easy to start a business but remembering your reason for starting – to provide for your family, to use your creative energy, to help others – can help you get over the temporary, inevitable frustrations or disappointments that test your emotional capacity. In Navy Seal training, the most dangerous thought during hell week when soldiers encounter a level of discomfort or pain beyond what they expected, is something along the lines of, “I don’t think I can keep this up.” Those who narrow their focus to the task at hand and making it through each iteration rather than focusing on the long week ahead are typically the ones that make it through.

For More Tips on Emotional Resiliency, Watch Mark Divine’s Video on the Subject: