“Must-do” List

There are certain, special weeks in a year that often get overloaded with work and unrealistic expectations. The week before a vacation, holiday breaks, end of quarters, etc. Our brain seems to loving using these arbitrary deadlines for our work, and what often happens is these expectations pile up over the preceding weeks until they’re completely unreasonable and unattainable.

So, then the week starts. You have this big list, but just like every other week, stuff happens and you can only accomplish half of what’s there.

I’ve gone through this cycle countless times. I have a long list of things I’d like to get done before the holidays that feel essential. It’s December 22nd and it’s 8PM I’m stressing over my five days of work I have to get done before Christmas. Inevitably I work up until the last minute and have to throw out a bunch of stuff from my list. I enter the break stressed, and frankly, kind of a jerk to those around me.

Before you get to this point, you need to stop and evaluate. I’m posting this on the Monday before a holiday week, but this can happen anytime. There’s a looming “deadline”. You have a finite block of time to do work. Some stuff is going to get done and some will not. Stop and create a must-do list.

These are the non negotiable things that truly must be done in that time period, without which there will be extreme consequences. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Go through your working to-do list. For each item, evaluate the consequences if that item isn’t completed. Imagine it’s the end of the week, and you didn’t get this done. What happens now? Let someone know you missed a deadline? Defer the work? Lose a client? This consequence analysis is likely to happen anyways at the end of your week, just get ahead of it.
  2. Create your new must-do list. Ideally you should estimate this list to take far less time than you have available. If it’s more, then you either need to take another hack at the list, or (less ideally) “create” more time by putting in extra hours proactively.

As you reach the end of a week, It feels way better to blow your must-do list out of the water, then to do half your to-do list and throw caveats all over the place. You got the same work done, but your attitude is totally different.

Be more kind to yourself, get ahead of the game, and create a must-do list.

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