Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about making your to-do list work for you. We’ve discussed how to make a to-do list that actually gets done, and whether you should use a time management app or stick to good old fashioned pencil and paper. Today, we’re going to tackle the REAL productivity killers keeping people from getting from one end of their to-do list to the other.

See, we all WANT to finish our to-do list, but very few of us do. Here’s why.

#1. Getting Started

How many mornings have you spent hours sitting at your kitchen table, drinking coffee and glaring at your to-do list? You know you need to get started, but you just can’t.

Relax. This happens to all of us sooner or later. The nice thing is, this is one of the easiest barriers to productivity to overcome.

You need to pick an item and do it.

Physics tells us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, so once you get started everything should continue rolling along from there. To actually get started, I recommend one of the following:

  1. Pick something you enjoy doing, even if it’s not the first thing on the list. When I prioritize my to-do list, the jobs I actually WANT to do aren’t usually at the top. I like to save those for later, when I’m running out of motivation. But if I’m having trouble getting started, I’ll often pull jobs out of order and start with something I like.
  2. Put a couple of small jobs on top. It’s easier to talk yourself into doing a job you know you can finish quickly than it is to start with something that’s going to take you hours. Get those little things out of the way, then you can start knocking out the big ones.

#2. There’s So Much, You’re Overwhelmed

When you feel like you have to do everything, it’s really difficult to actually DO anything. If the size of your to-do list is keeping you from consistently finishing, it’s going to be harder and harder to talk yourself into doing any of it.

You need to pare down the list. Trim the fat, if you will. What do you ACTUALLY need to do today? Are there things that could be bumped to tomorrow, or delegated to someone else?

I personally recommend keeping your “have to do” list to eight items or less. Then, when you get that done, if you still have time you can tackle something else. Most people are able to successfully accomplish eight things over the course of the day, and the satisfaction of having finished their to-do list is often enough to motivate them to do just a little more.

#3. You’re Taking Too Many Big Bites

Are you the type that likes to list whole projects on your to-do list, then feels discouraged when you still have a ton to do? Some people comfortably break those big projects down in their head. For the rest of us, breaking large projects into specific, bite sized pieces and committing to doing a small portion of them each day is much less overwhelming.

When you know you don’t have to do it all, the parts you DO need to do are much less intimidating.

#4. Too Many Distractions

This is the number one productivity killer. Between meetings, phone calls, social media and the need to constantly check our email and chat windows, it’s difficult to focus. Things that should take minutes suddenly take hours. You end up calling it a night (or a morning, if you’re one of those nocturnal folk) with a huge pile of tasks still sitting on your plate.

Dedicate specific hours of your day to doing the tasks on your to-do list. Shut off your phone, decline meetings, close your office door, set your status to “away”. Give yourself those hours to just focus on the things you need to do. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you can be.