How to Manage Your To-Do List on Your Worst Days



We all have them. Days when for one of a dozen reasons things go wrong, or we don’t even approach the “zone” (never mind reach it). All isn’t lost. There are still some things you can do to get back in the game. Use these tips to salvage your to-do list on even the worst days.


Pare the list

There is an old proverb that advises eating the elephant one bite at a time. Think of your to-do list as the elephant. On days when you have little time, energy or motivation, the last thing you need is an endless list. Just looking at it will lead to paralyzing overwhelm. Instead choose two or three things from the list and do your best (remember that your best looks different depending on the day). When you cross them off you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment rather than failure.


Hit the reset button

Every moment presents an opportunity to begin again. If possible, leave your desk and take a short walk outside. A 2015 New York Times article reported on a study that found lunchtime walks improved mood and ability to handle stress at work. Although participants walked for 30 minutes, shorter periods are helpful, too. A 2015 NFIB article reports on research finding benefit in being outside for just 5 or 10 minutes. Participants showed improvement in creativity and cognition as well as mood and confidence. While you’re outside slow down your breathing and notice what is around you. Don’t ruminate, instead focus all your attention on the moment at hand.


Give or get a hand

As every office worker knows, emotional energy is contagious. There is an upside and a down side to this group effect. Try to take advantage of the upside on your worst days. Ask a buddy with good energy to give you a hand, that energy may just rub off. You can also offer a hand. Changing your routine may be just what is needed to shake you out of your slump.


Press the easy button

Start with your easiest tasks first. You may just find the energy and momentum to keep going. Think of small ways to reward yourself throughout the day (one task = one cat video). You won’t do better by being too hard on yourself. Instead, be patient and gentle. Remind yourself that everyone has a bad day sometimes. Just do the best you can and know that tomorrow is another day.


What are your work strategies to make it through a bad day?

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