Sometimes you feel like you can’t manage your life because of huge, challenging projects you need to get done. But in my experience as a time management coach, people can just as easily feel like a failure because of the little things: the doctors’ appointments never made, the clothes heaps on the floor, or the constant orange glow of the change oil light on their dashboard.
Left undone, life’s little to-dos can pile up into a menacing tower that makes you just want to zone out on your phone. But keeping on top of the day-to-day doesn’t need to be that hard. Here are four ways that you can take the stress out of life administration:
Eliminate the to-do
The fewer administrative items you have on your list, the better. I recommend making tasks automatic where that’s an option. For example, you can have autopay of bills and auto-order of commonly used household items. Or take advantage of the option to get a task done immediately. For example, even though it feels weird to schedule a dentist appointment six months out when I check out at the end of my current dentist appointment, I’m always glad I did. If something comes up, switching the time of a dentist’s appointment usually feels like much less effort than taking the initiative to make it in the first place.
Make a routine
For ongoing personal tasks, it’s easiest to make them part of your daily or weekly routine. For example, each morning as part of my morning checklist, I go through my personal email, text, and voicemails from the last 24 hours to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.
One of my coaching clients has a “mail Monday” every Monday night where she and her partner go through any mail that may have piled up on the kitchen table through the week. Another coaching client does a five-minute power cleanup at the end of each workday. And I try to keep Monday nights flexible so I can be free for doing errands, ordering things online, or putting away laundry.
Schedule a time
For less regular items that do have a deadline, I recommend putting time into your calendar. For example, if I need to do birthday-card or present shopping, I’ll put some time in my calendar to get that done. Or if I’m planning a trip and need to book airline tickets, I’ll put in a chunk of time for that activity.
Scheduling these items has multiple purposes:
- It helps me admit to myself that they take a significant amount of time and won’t be “squeezed” in somewhere.
- It forces me to see where I have time between now and the deadline to get that activity done.
- It helps me to make that particular activity a priority on that particular day and time.
Chip away at the list
For non-time sensitive items, it’s okay to keep them on a list in your phone, notebook, or other preferred task list repository. But the key to moving things off that list is consistently chipping away at it. For some people, that looks like setting aside a whole evening or a good chunk of time on a weekend to get things done. But I find that in general it’s more effective to set the bar much lower and aim for about one to two personal admin items per day.
Why this seems to work better is that the psychological weight of making one call is generally low, but staring at five to 10 items can make you feel overwhelmed before you even start. Some people have a certain time when they chip away at the list, such as during 15-20 minutes of their lunch hour. Others simply make it a goal to do something each day. Either works as long as you’re consistent.
Personal admin items take time, and if they’re left unattended, they can get unruly. But by accepting the fact that you need to make intentional space for keeping life in order instead of assuming that these tasks will just “fit in” somewhere, having the right routines around getting them done, and taking small actions consistently, you can feel on top of life’s little tasks instead of allowing them to overwhelm you.