How to Feel All Caught Up Every Day

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Last day of school. Bell rings. Doors open and you burst through them, free of obligations, nothing ahead of you but the seemingly endless days of summer, nothing to do but play and have fun. Remember that feeling? The closest you get to it these days is probably that moment when you’ve finished a big project and there’s a brief lull before you have to start something new. But let’s be real: The truth is more like, “Whew! That’s done. Now I can focus on the 47 other things on my plate!”

That scenario can leave you feeling defeated, demoralized, and wondering whether you’ll ever get ahead. The feeling of never being caught up is not sustainable, it’s not healthy, and you don’t need a formal research project to tell you it’s a big part of the reason turnover is so high for nonprofit professionals.

Despite the encouraging move away from overhead being used as an indicator of an organization’s effectiveness, expecting nonprofit professionals to accomplish more with less is a trend that won’t reverse anytime soon. Even those organizations committed to reducing excessive workload can’t make it happen overnight.

So what can you do right now to feel more caught up and recapture some of that school’s-out enthusiasm? Enjoy the enormous sense of relief you get from checking off items from your to-do list—even if they aren’t complete.

Almost 20 years ago I began a simple daily ritual that’s helped me make sure I focus on my most important tasks, tie up all loose ends for the day, and assign things I haven’t done to some point in the future. What I didn’t realize until I had been doing this for a while is, this system also leaves me with a feeling of being all caught up at the end of each day. Every day! Ahhh ...

I call the ritual “post and check,” and if you were to flip through my notebooks, calendars, and to-do lists of the past couple of decades, you would see the abbreviation “PNC” written everywhere—not only as a regular reminder, but almost like a light at the end of the tunnel.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Each day, I start with a list of things I need to do. These things either persist from previous days or come from my notebook or calendar. The list is always longer than what I can accomplish in a single day, so I review the list and prioritize the most important tasks.
  2. I then schedule my work for the day into 90-minute work blocks (another simple, yet remarkably effective system I’ll write about another time) and check each item off the list as I complete it. The last item for the day is always “PNC.”
  3. Throughout the day, I add any new items that arise and keep working.
  4. At the end of each day, I review my list and “post” those items I didn’t get to—or didn’t finish—to the next day’s list or to some other day on the calendar. I then “check” them off of the current day’s list.

That’s all there is to it. Piece of cake!

Of course, you’ll still have the same amount of work to do. But the work you do have will be prioritized and won’t get overlooked from day to day. And unlike traditional to-do lists that seem to go on forever, you’ll now feel the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes with checking off every item on your list, and having no loose ends.

It’s not quite a day at the beach, but it might bring a little more sunshine into your work life. Give it a try and let me know what you think by leaving a comment.


Image Credit: Rene Schwietzke