Many people around the world use the traditional to-do lists to get through their day, writing down things to-do (in work or in personal life), meetings, events, and chores. You might be this person who enjoys writing down lists and throughout the day checking each accomplishment off and feeling satisfied.

But let’s face it, some days you may not get everything done. Maybe something came up last minute or one of your tasks took longer than you expected. Whatever it may be, some days you just cannot cross everything off your to-do lists. Or maybe this is a constant uphill battle for you; you seem to never get everything done off your list, which makes you feel like your day was a waste.

That brings up an important question: Are your to-do lists realistic? Sure, some days they are, but what about other days? Are you prioritizing? Are you giving yourself enough time to accomplish each task in an appropriate time frame? Are you allowing outside circumstances to interrupt your work flow?

Daniel Markovitz, President of TimeBack Management, summarizes it eloquently this way:

Lists do not capture important information such as the time it takes to do each item or how much time you have available. They also bring out less-than-productive aspects of human nature — we are overwhelmed by too much information, we consistently choose the easiest and quickest items over more onerous ones that may be more important, and we tend to only focus on the highest-priority items until the low-priority ones become critical and more difficult to handle.

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Do you find yourself doing this exact same thing? Putting off your big task and putting more time and effort into the little tasks until that big task becomes a mountain you dread climbing? You don’t have to live like this anymore. Here are a few suggestions for prioritizing your day and taking control of your time while getting things done!

The 1-3-5  To-do Rule

Forbes suggests that in this rule, you’ll assume every day you will accomplish one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks. Before leaving work every day, make a list so that in the morning you’ll be ready for your daily tasks. Forbes also suggests getting one big or medium task out of the way and crossed off the list before lunch, which means not checking your email first thing in the morning! That might be tough, but after you get that one big task out of your way, the other, smaller tasks won’t seem so big and you’ll be able to put the necessary amount of time into each of them.

But what if your day is often filled with unexpected tasks? Forbes suggests leaving one medium and two or three small tasks blank. Leaving some blank tasks – so you can fill it in when something pops up – will help with prioritizing and staying on track. Or maybe your day is filled with meetings. Just remodel the 1-3-5 Rule to a 1-2-3 Rule (One big task, two medium tasks, and three smaller tasks). You want this Rule to apply to your life as well as your schedule. A to-do list is not meant to stress you, so remodel it to fit your work life so you can feel accomplished every day.

 Living in Your Calendar

This comes from Daniel Markovitz’s idea of living inside of your calendar. It’s another way of looking at a “to-do” list. Instead of making a to-do list, like the 1-3-5 Rule, you’ll spend 10-15 minutes writing down what you want to get done. Then you’ll prioritize it according to the most important (or urgent) down to the least important. You will then schedule an appropriate amount of time to work every task inside of your calendar, making each task look like an appointment. Schedule around your pre-existing appointments so you can realistically get things done.

You can also adjust your calendar to what your day looks like. Say you’re leaving work two hours earlier than usual, you’ll schedule the most urgent tasks in your calendar and postpone not-so-important tasks for the next day. If what you’re working on takes longer than you expect, adjust it accordingly and postpone those tasks that are smaller and can wait until the next day (or a later time). Create times to check and reply to your email messages. Block 15 minute intervals for these appointments and don’t go over your time limit!

Be Realistic

In each of these suggestions, whether you prefer the 1-3-5 Rule or the living inside your calendar system, remember you only have so many hours in a day and being realistic on what you can and cannot get done in one day (or in one work day) is key to success. You may not get all twenty tasks done today, but if you prioritize from urgent (or important) to least important, you can move tasks around to fit your time restraints and limitations. You want to feel accomplished, so tackling that big task first will help you feel productive.

For more information on how to stay on task and how to keep your to-do lists realistic and simple, visit Cathy Sexton’s website to feel more productivity in your day.