To-Do Lists

My colleagues and my family know that I like to-do lists. I appreciate the exercise of taking the list of what I need to accomplish each day out of my head and putting it on paper. Once the items I need or want to accomplish are on my physical list I don’t spend energy worrying that I’ll forget to follow up on those items. I also admit that I love the satisfaction of checking off my to-dos. I’m the quintessential “achiever” on a variety of personality tests –– which may or may not be the healthiest of traits depending on who you ask!

However, when there isn’t a pressing deadline for a task on my to-do list it can linger on the list far too long. The urgency of a deadline often compels me to perform, but the lack of an urgent deadline can lead me to delay work on important, but non-urgent tasks. And I don’t think I’m alone in struggling to find the motivation to execute the seemingly non-urgent projects before me.

I recently came across a Harvard Business Review article discussing some helpful strategies on how to motivate yourself to get something done when you don’t have a deadline. The author suggests implementing three simple ideas to help create momentum on a task or project when the urgency of a deadline is lacking:

  1. Make a deadline – In many ways it seems obvious to create your own deadline when you don’t have one. However, actually choosing a self-imposed deadline and physically putting it on your calendar can be helpful in seeing a project to its conclusion. A key strategy to meeting this self-imposed deadline is blocking out enough time on your calendar to actually work on the project. It serves as a reminder to work on the project as well as to schedule around that dedicated time. Another suggestion the article makes is to focus on just one task without a deadline each month. The author asserts (and I tend to agree), “You’re more likely to finish a project if you focus on only one over the next 30 days, rather than juggling a few non-urgent tasks all at once.”
  2. Enlist positive peer pressure – I find this suggestion extremely motivating when I lack the urgency of a deadline. Choosing someone to share your timeframe for completing the project with and to commit to provide this person with updates helps to energize you to make progress before checking back in with them. You could choose one person, a group, do it by email or social media, or set up a time with a colleague to collaborate on the project. Positive peer pressure is a powerful motivating force!
  3. Incentivize yourself – Incentivize yourself through developing compelling incentives or compelling penalties. Rewarding yourself for completing the task or project doesn’t “have to be big or lavish.” The reward just has to be something you actually want to do. For a penalty, the article provides the example of not being able to watch your favorite TV show if you don’t work on the task for the amount of time you committed to and notes “The idea is to tie the penalty to something you enjoy doing regularly, so you won’t ignore a task that you’re not inclined to invest time in.”

Do you have an important, but non-urgent task that has lingered a little too long on your to-do list? If so then I challenge you, as soon as you finish reading this blog, take five minutes to select your deadline, pick who to check in with about it, and choose a reward and/or penalty to further incentivize you to meet your deadline. Here’s to finding the motivation to complete non-urgent (but important!) tasks and projects that have lingered too long on our to-do lists!

About the Author
Hilary Tricerri is a consultant with Morrison, working primarily in our Grants practice. To get in touch with Hilary, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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