by Dan Pryor

After a hectic, distracted summer, fall is the time of the year when things get back to normal.  Children return to school, summer vacations end, falling leaves demand to be raked and postponed projects refuse to be ignored.  As a result, "to do" lists grow exponentially.  How do you tackle this list efficiently, with as little pain as possible?  Consider the following suggestions.

Make a single substantial list of all the things you must accomplish.  Avoid multiple lists; our biggest challenge is maintaining focus and multiple lists immediately make that more difficult.  Carry your one list with you rather than jotting tasks on multiple scraps of paper you'll tuck in your pocket only to be lost forever (or at least until after the due date, when, to your chagrin, you'll discover your note to buy a birthday card three days after your Mom's birthday!)

Once you've identified your fall chores, prioritize them.  Steven Covey provides a useful approach for categorizing your To Do list.  Assign your tasks to one of the following four categories:
  1. Urgent and important.  These tasks include pressing issues, emergencies, crises and those issues that if not addressed immediately will quickly become crises.  (Normally, proper planning will keep tasks out of this category.)
  2. Important but not urgent.  While requiring action, you still have some planning time for these items.  You can't ignore them, but there is time to determine when and how you'll tackle these tasks.
  3. Not important but urgent.  These issues scream for attention - phone calls, interruptions, etc., and tend to consume more time than necessary.  None of these should be on your To Do list, and developing ways to keep them at bay will ramp up your productivity more than any single strategy.
  4. Not important or urgent.  These are time wasters - watching TV, playing video games, surfing the Internet, etc.  While they have no business on your To Do list (they too easily distract you from the important things), they can play a useful role.  Use some of your favorite activities in this category judiciously upon the accomplishment of a specific task, as a reward for maintaining focus to complete a task.
Once you have prioritized your To Do list, obviously you will want to pay attention to the urgent and important items first.  But intersperse your work with the occasional easy task, something that's not difficult or that you enjoy doing, and that doesn't take long to accomplish.  Completing a task creates momentum; completing it quickly creates more momentum.  Success is energizing, and this technique can be especially helpful if you're struggling to get started.
For a real productivity boost, make your list public (at least to the people who support you).  Colleagues, friends and family will be happy to provide help and an occasional gentle nudge, uh, encouragement.  Use a white board at work (or even at home) or rely on that ever-popular family communication device, the refrigerator door!  Ask people around you to keep you accountable, but remember that when you ask someone to help you stay accountable you forgo any defensiveness or justification for not keeping your commitment.
When you complete a task, mark it off your list.  Enjoy crossing it off; revel in the pride and satisfaction of completing another important task.  Draw a big bold line through it on your list.  If you have publically posted your list, every time you eliminate an item, you are likely to get a bit more encouragement.  And, with or without ADHD, one can never get enough encouragement.

Dan Pryor is an adjunct Organizational Communication professor in the New College at Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas.  He also consults and speaks on leadership development, learning, changing value systems clarifying personal calling.  Reach him at