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September 16, 2014 / Stephanie Vermillion

A Formula for Finishing Daunting To-Do Lists

A Formula for Finishing Daunting To-Do ListsYou know those lingering bullets on your to-do list? The ones that just sit there and don’t necessarily deserve a highlight. (Yes, I color code my post-its — I keep Staples in business).

Well, I finished one of those today, and that one-second act of striking it off my list was … absolutely exhilarating.

In PR, and really any field, we always have one or two action items that we know have to get finished but we get a sort of “project block” (similar to writer’s block) that keeps us from moving forward.

But, as I completed that lingering to-do today, I realized there’s actually a formula I use regularly to get those trying tasks accomplished. It’s no exciting magic formula, and you still have to do the work (unless you truly aren’t muggle born, in which case you can bypass the work — and let’s talk), but it’s a simple guide that helps you bypass distractions and move on to the next task.

The next time you have “project block,” you can try my not-magic-but-effective formula, too.

  1. Close browsers, emails, Word documents, etc. Take away all workplace distractions so you can focus on the task at hand. (Note: You don’t necessarily have to close email — and I don’t. Just minimize email leaving notifications running and only open your email when an urgent message comes through.)
  2. Turn on classic music or concentration tunes to drown out co-worker conversations.Spotify just made this easier with its “Focus” category. It’s my saving grace! If you’re not allowed to listen to music at work, see if you can use a laptop in a quieter area.
  3. Jot down notes and a rough outline of your project by hand while reading details from the computer. For some reason, writing it out helps me visualize the overall project much better. It’s almost as though I’m the artist creating this masterpiece … minus the artistic ability. And perhaps “masterpiece” is a bit of an overstatement when we’re talking about a new release. But you get the idea.
  4. Plug your handwritten outline and work onto the computer then fill in the gaps. This does take the most time, because you have to add in all of the content, but plugging it into an outline is much easier than a blank page.
  5. Once you’ve finished, take a step back. Go for a walk around the block, get a snack or wait to review the project until the next day so you can read it with a fresh set of eyes. But don’t get in the habit of leaving “just a little” extra work for this period. You need to have it all complete so your second look is fresh – not focused on finishing.

Now, I’ll close by saying for those really big tasks, that I know will take two hours or more, I typically precede step one with a freshly brewed cup of coffee (Dunkin’s pumpkin spice flavored, please). Even when it’s decaf, the idea of a special treat makes that trying task just a little bit less daunting.

Do you have any tips for completing those dreaded projects? Please share!

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