A two-item to-do list will decrease stress while increasing productivity. But going from a massive to-do list with an overscheduled calendar down to two significant items per day is not easy. Here are the keys to creating and sticking to a two-item to-do list.

Pick the right two things

Time management gurus have often espoused the idea of prioritizing or delineating between important and less important activities. How we determine what is important can be a personal process, but there are a few questions we can ask every day to help whittle it down to the two most important.

  • What task has been weighing me down or keeping me up at night? If it is something that we must do (i.e. we cannot delegate or delete it), then that goes on the list.
  • Is there something that, if I accomplished it, would make me feel fantastic at the end of the day? Whether this is something for ourselves or someone else, we should add that to the list if there is a way we can make a positive, meaningful impact.

Two means two

The next challenge is understanding that whatever the two items are on the list, those need to be done first. Whether that translates to a meeting in the afternoon or getting to work on it right after breakfast, those two activities are the most important priorities of the day. Therefore, all other things are second to those two items.

This sounds simple, but unwittingly reprioritizing is the most common undoing of the two-item to do list. We get distracted by everything from dirty dishes to whiny bosses. Stay focused, and set and protect the time to get those two items done.

Handle FOMO

The other common obstacle to the two-item to-do list is the anxiety associated with all the other things we feel we must do that we are not doing. Ironically, the best cure for this is creating a giant to-do list.

Franklin Covey, David Allen and Julie Morgenstern all have great suggestions on how to create, categorize, compartmentalize and prioritize all those other items for those of us who are Type A. But really all that is necessary is a place to make a really big list that is easily accessible any time we have a thought to add to our list.

Have fun

Armed with two items to accomplish, it is time to start practicing.

Eventually the amazing boost we will feel from doing important things every day will end up being its own reward, but the path getting there may be a bit challenging. By figuring out ways to reward ourselves along the way, we are more likely to keep trying and ultimately succeed at this new approach.

The bottom line is, whether we reward ourselves with quiet time or use the time to get even more done in the day, whittling our daily to-do list down to two items will help us get more done, find more time and in turn reduce our stress levels. It will not be easy, but it is worth a try!