“I have so much to do!” 

Who hasn’t said this at the beginning of a new year, or month, or week? Every time that you “reset” your internal calendar, it can feel like life comes swarming in and threatening to overwhelm you. 

If you’re a person who thrives on crossing off to-do lists, you may get a little rush of motivation every time you start all over and compose your list of tasks and goals.

However, if you’re more prone to deliberate over your responsibilities, it can feel extremely stressful to get started and you may find yourself procrastinating or delaying your efforts because you’re not sure where to jump in first. 

One of the guiding principles of leadership development is that you need to lead yourself first before you can lead others. We’ve put together some ideas on how to kickstart that self leadership, so you can plan your week, then follow that plan for exceptional results.

1. Write it Down. 

In order to decide what to focus on, you need to give yourself a definitive list. 

One of the women I work with has been trained in Agile project management, and she likes taking an Agile approach to her tasks. She’ll sit down and try to empty her mind of tasks, writing down everything she can think of within a 10 to 15 minute time span, then organizing it. 

From things like throwing in a load of laundry to onboarding a new client, she gets it all down on paper, so she can decide how and when to invest her efforts. 

You may not be a big fan of a paper to do list, but there are also plenty of other ways to organize your information – on a shared family calendar, in your email or even in an online or app-based task management system.

2. Get the Big Rocks In. 

What do you have on your mind that you know just HAS to be done? Make sure you think about and focus on those as you’re planning your week. 

It’s like the analogy of the big rocks. If you’re trying to fill a jar with rocks, pebbles, sand and water, you have to start with making space for the big rocks; otherwise, everything will end up overflowing and spilling out. 

If you know you have a 2 to 3 hour project awaiting you, block that time out for yourself now, instead of trying to squeeze it in around other things. 

Once you commit the time by writing it down in your planner or scheduling it into your online calendar, stick with it. That doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can work on those “big rock” tasks; it just means that you’ve set aside specific time to handle the things that are most important to you.

3. Give Yourself Some Instant Gratification. 

Those of us who love to do lists often share a silly compulsion – we’ll write down things just for the pleasure of being able to check them off as “done.” 

If you’re that type of person, give in to it! Don’t be embarrassed to write “shower” or “Call Mom” or other necessary items on your list. You’ll feel a little moment of satisfaction when you’re able to tick those items off.

4. Don’t Just Go For the Low-Hanging Fruit. 

I’d call those instant gratification items low hanging fruit – things that are easy to handle and don’t require too much effort. 

They’re a necessary part of every week; just make sure you’re prioritizing and getting those not-so-fun or more time-consuming items in there too.

One of my favorite ways around this active procrastination is to break the big items down into smaller items, so you can feel a little more productive when you’re chipping away at those bigger tasks. 

As an example, if you’re a business leader, your to do list shouldn’t just have a giant item like “Change company culture” on it – that’s a herculean task that requires more than one effort to get it done. 

If you write it down in this way, you may find it never happens because you keep pushing it back and feeling like it’s too big to get started on. Instead, think about the small steps you can take, things like “Research leadership development programs” or “Invite employees to focus group.” When you make a more bite-size list, you’ll be able to make progress and feel good about it, even if your overall goal takes a while to achieve.

5. Be Realistic About Your Timelines. 

Someone once said that there’s no free time as an adult; there’s just procrastinating other things. Ouch! 

While life hopefully isn’t quite that dismal, the majority of us have far more items on our to-do lists than we can reasonably manage in a week or even in a month. I have two recommendations around this topic.

Estimate your time.

All tasks aren’t equal. You may have one 5-hour task, one 2-hour task and seven tasks that take 15 minutes on your list.

Be aware of the total, as well as of the way that these tasks interplay with one another. Is the 5-hour task a prerequisite to completing some of your other to-do items? If so, look at the time blocks you have available on your calendar and determine how feasible it is to take care of all those things in the time you have available this week. 

Don’t be a yes woman or yes man.

Do you have a tendency to want to please others? You may find yourself saying yes too often or agreeing to timelines that aren’t realistic, just to avoid confrontation.

When you do this though, you’re setting the stage for additional stress in the future, either because you have to come back and say the work’s not done, or because you have to put yourself in a bind to get it done. 

Creating boundaries with your colleagues, clients and self may be difficult at first, but communicating clearly will benefit you and your work relationships in the long run.

6. Ask for Support. 

A good leader doesn’t try to do everything on their own. Instead, they figure out how they can do more by utilizing the strengths of those around them. 

 You may be asking yourself, “What if I don’t have any employees?” You don’t have to have employees to be a leader, and you don’t have to be a manager to ask for support. 

Consider the opportunities that are available to you – can you work on a project with a colleague or ask them for support in reviewing your work? Can you envision a project that would require their support and would be better because of their input? 

You shouldn’t, of course, pass off your work mindlessly to another person, but it can be beneficial to collaborate and get the most from a team. When you’re an emerging leader, showing that you can think strategically and build these alliances can prove your capability to advance and take on a leadership role.

7. Don’t Pour From an Empty Cup. 

When you’re taking on a lot, it’s important to remember that you can’t do it alone, and that you can’t do it if you’re exhausted. Make sure you’re taking time to refresh and building in time to do things for yourself. 

When I say “do things for yourself,” I don’t mean that you have to schedule an hour long bubble bath every day (although that sounds pretty nice!). Doing things for yourself can mean setting aside time for professional development, for reading educational articles or for creating a vision board with your goals for the future. 

When you have a better idea of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, tasks seem less mundane, because they’re moving you toward a bigger goal.

8. Do it Every Day. 

Making a list always seems fun and exhilarating at the beginning of the week. As it goes on, though, you may find your list shoved into a desk drawer or abandoned within your notebook or planner until the next Monday rolls around. 

You’ll feel more dedicated to working your plan and getting things done if you recenter on your list. Even if it’s five minutes, dedicate that time to looking through your list and crossing off or re-prioritizing items. 

A good plan makes for a good week, and stringing several good weeks together in a row can mean that you’re zable to achieve some big strides toward your goals. 

If you’re hoping to achieve and do more, be intentional about it. We’ve put together a free phone image that you can save so you can remind yourself about these priorities – add it as your screensaver or background as a reminder to plan your work each week, and to stick to your plan as the week goes on. 

Are you feeling stuck or overwhelmed when it comes to figuring out a way to make these changes, and ensure your plan works?

If you need support in getting your priorities in order, you may want to consider our Personal Excellence and Emotional Intelligence course to build a plan for self-leadership. Our training programs can help you get clear about your goals as you plan and prioritize for success (take it from me, I meet with my own coach every year to make sure I’m planning with a clear head and thinking through the process!).