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Steer clear of to-do list icebergs: 6 tips

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icebergIcebergs can cause big problems for sea captains because what you see on the surface is no indication of what lies beneath. The same can be true of tasks on your to-do list. Something that seems simple and straightforward on the list may in reality be a complicated project that eats up an inordinate amount of your time, warns time management guru Timo Kiander.

If you plan on knocking out that task quickly and then discover there’s far more to it than you expected, it’s going to wreak havoc on your schedule and could easily torpedo a ton of your free time. Here are some steps to ensure you won’t be surprised by a to-do list iceberg.

  • Kick overconfidence to the curb. Don’t give yourself overly optimistic timelines in which to get a task done, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before.
  • Set aside preparation time. When you undertake a new task, you need to set aside time at the start to study up and learn about what you’re getting yourself into.
  • Break the task into bite-size bits. A big task can easily become overwhelming, but you can make it feel more manageable by breaking it down into smaller jobs and scheduling them on your calendar.
  • Get going ASAP. If you underestimate how long it will take to complete a task and you start late, there’s not much chance you’ll meet your deadline.
  • Communicate with the key players. Let people know when you don’t have experience with the task at hand. Tell them that you’re working hard to get up to speed, but that you may need some extra time. That way, there won’t be any surprises.
  • Establish a system along the way. As you go about completing your task, record every step you take and how long it takes. Result: You’ll have a plan for next time.

— Adapted from “Warning: Do You Have an Iceberg on Your Task List?,” Timo Kiander, Dumb Little Man.

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