I have 25 things to do and 125 more on my mind. How do I manage?

Dear Ranjani,

I have at least 25 tasks to do everyday. And another 125 on my mind at all times. How do I ever get them all done?


Dear A,

You don’t.

You (me and a lot of us) have the ‘too much to do, too little time’ syndrome. We want to do everything that catches our fancy and then feel terrible for not having done them all. This gets even worse when you add FOMO to it — that latest viral video, the movie everyone is raving about, that book that a friend said you will love etc.

Frankly, my dear, we don’t need or even want to do them all.

So, step #1: Look at your 25 and see if they are things that you really want to do. Cull it down. You’ll be tempted to say, “well I want to do them all”. Well, don’t fool yourself. Choose the ones that truly matter. Let’s say you’ve identified 15.

#2 | If there are some you don’t want to, but have to, like taxes or bathing, get help for the former, grudgingly accept the latter.

#3 | Now, this is the real advice: On any given day, pick 3.

If you’re a writer and one of your tasks is writing a 1000-word article, then pick one of those and 2 of smaller tasks like editing, invoicing, follow ups etc. If you’re a designer working on a 25-page ebook, make your task ‘design 5 pages’ or something like that.

  • Make sure these are reasonably doable in one day.

  • Focus on the important ones, before the urgent ones.

  • Finish these three tasks before doing anything else, even email or calling someone back, for instance.

Once these three are done, call it a win and celebrate.

#4 | Until you’ve cleared off the 15, don’t take on new tasks. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to potential customers or accept new work. It just means you can’t schedule them in.

Let’s say I have five 1000-word articles to write. And I know I need 10 working days for it. When a customer calls and needs another article, I don’t have to say no. I just have to schedule its delivery 2 weeks later. (Customers will say it’s urgent. You don’t have to pay heed.)

Be wary of re-scheduling things based on client urgencies. It’s a nightmare.

#5 | Put that 125 you have on your mind to a rainy day task list.

Remember to be relentless, A — NOT in doing them all, but in prioritising only those that are important to you. Over time, you’ll end up doing work that matters to you and is satisfying.

Try this and write back to me, if you’re getting stuck, ok?

P.S: If you’re in full-time work where your boss keeps loading you with more work, even as you’re overwhelmed and struggling, your problem isn’t task management, I’m afraid. 🙂