Morning meeting. Countless work tasks. Then there are those events or assignments that spill into your evening hours (and that’s not counting the dinner you have to cook!). In other words, your to-do lists—while they help you manage your day—can make you feel like you’re running in quicksand.
To-do lists—bulleted, drawn, or otherwise—are “something of a double-edged sword. Many of them still leave us feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, and less productive than we could be,” Art Markman, author of the new book Brain Briefs: Answers to the Most (and Least) Pressing Questions About Your Mind, says in a recent Fast Company column.
In fact, your most tedious, annoying assignments and daily must-do items often monopolize your entire list, which can make you feel decidedly meh about it all—because your big picture goals are nowhere to be seen. (Do you ever write “change the world” on your to-do list?)
Here are three tips from Markman on how to make your to-do list work for you—not the other way around.
1. Align your daily get-‘er-dones list with a sense of purpose
Research suggests that having a sense of purpose and viewing your job “as a calling” rather than a series of tasks makes you happier—the trick is to make sure your organizational system is created around larger goals.
2. Make it easier to celebrate your wins
A major component for enjoying your job is taking note of the contributions you make over time that define your career. To better recognize your (kickass) value, make sure those major accomplishment goals are written out in your weekly calendar. Having a mix of long-term goals with your everyday tasks helps ensure these stay on your mind and you’re not all-consumed with, say, sending emails.
3. Break down your #girlboss dreams in to small, doable tasks
While you undoubtedly have major goals like getting a promotion or successfully completing an important project, they tend to be lost in the shuffle because it’s not always clear what the steps are to making these a reality, Markman says. And he also notes that research has proven that people who expect obstacles are more skilled at surmounting them—so remember to build in some timeline wiggle room for setbacks.
Lesson learned! And the next time you’re ready to jot down your week’s tasks, don’t forget to add “plan dream vacation”—science says it’s another effective (and, of course, happiness-inducing) way to get ahead.
Another productivity hack? Here are three surprising ways journaling can help you lead a better life. Also important: How to use procrastination to your advantage.