I've learned the secret to getting through everything on my to do list at work. I just need to be unambitious and list only one or two things a day.
That is, of course, completely contrary to all my natural tendencies. I love making to do lists and, while I inevitably start out with the things I really really really have to get done that day, it's all too easy to go from "write buckslip for white paper" to "achieve total world domination." (I should probably explain the former item. A buckslip is how staff packages move around our offices. An internal buckslip is for our director, while an external buckslip is a transmission letter our director signs to get a package to the Under Secretary and/or his deputy. I suppose that in English, instead of Pentagon as a Second Language, the term would be "cover letter." At any rate, I spend a good amount of my time at work reading or writing papers and briefings and summarizing them on buckslips and staff summary sheets. The flow of bureaucracy is entirely dependent on these staff packages.)
An even better trick than listing just a few items is to write stuff down after I've done it so I can cross it off right away. Draft an answer to a media inquiry, email it to the group, and wait until after it's gone out before I even write it down. Those lined out items are just so satisfying. I'll know it's time to quit when I start listing items like "answer email" or "forward Wall Street Journal article to Al" so I can cross them off.
Everything falls apart, though, when it comes to my list of things to do at home. If I write it all down, I get overwhelmed by how cluttered things are and I just want to curl up with a book and ignore it all. I can just about keep up with washing dishes, doing laundry, and paying bills, but unimportant mail stacks up and I still haven't put away things I bought weeks ago and there's just too damn much stuff.
An illustrative example:
Oh, wait, I guess I just did that last one.
Copyright 2005 Miriam H. Nadel