By Lissa Cupp, vice president, e-Commerce & Consumer Marketing, ACCO Brands

Ever feel like you’re stuck? It could be an overwhelming list of tasks keeping you from making progress. Maybe you’ve fallen victim to procrastination. Or you simply may be burned out and hit a wall. Whatever the case, becoming aware that you’re in a rut is half the battle. The other half is getting—and keeping—yourself out of that rut.

Feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by tasks at hand will drop you in a rut every time. The first step to stop and prevent this from happening is taking control of your task list. You can do this in three easy steps:

  • Recognize. As I’ve already mentioned, recognizing the situation is critical. As soon as you feel like you’re in that rut, grab your task list or, if you don’t have one, create one. Make sure to include ALL tasks that need to be addressed or are looming overhead, both professional and personal. Don’t let anything fall through the cracks at this stage, no matter how small they may seem. I recommended actually writing out your list, as this will help you better retain the information and, as you’ll soon see, provide a sense of accomplishment when you get to check items off the list.
  • Prioritize. Look at your task list and determine which items are most critical for completion or that have other items depending on their completion. These are your highest priority tasks—the A List. Then, create your B-List of important but not urgent tasks as well as the smaller tasks that take less time. Finally, delete those tasks that don’t fall into either of these categories. Sure, it’s easy to recognize every task as being important—but when you’re pressed for time and stuck in a rut, many of them can be removed or placed in the grass-catcher.
  • Organize. Look at your prioritized list and develop your plan of attack. It’s often helpful if you start with one or two of the smaller B-List tasks to get you going and to give you a sense of accomplishment—as well as motivate you to take out those A-List items. Don’t hesitate to delegate some tasks—no one can do everything themselves. It’s okay to realize this and ask for help.

Despite taking these steps, there are times that you still feel like your wheels are spinning. You have your tasks organized and a plan of attack in place—but then, all of a sudden, you realize you’ve been staring blankly at your screen or the actual written list for the last half hour. At this point, here’s what you need to do:

  • Get away. This means just what it says. Get up and walk away from the task at hand. And don’t think or worry about it while you’re up and about. This is an opportunity to get refreshed and reset your mind. Be it your desk, home office or garage, just walk away for a few minutes.
  • “Me” time. This can be part of your refresh effort. Take a stroll, meditate, play Angry Birds—whatever works best for you. This will get your mind off of the task that’s holding you back, and it will also refresh your thoughts, allowing for new and bigger ideas for knocking out that to-do list.
  • Reward yourself. Don’t forget about the tasks that you’ve already completed and give yourself a pat on the back—you deserve it! You can even treat yourself to something that has particular appeal to you, like a bowl of ice cream or a half-hour of SportsCenter.

We’ve all been in ruts before, and we all recognize how detrimental it can be to managing your time efficiently and productively. This rings even truer during the holiday season when task lists grow larger and time is at a premium.

If you find yourself stuck, take the steps outlined here, and before you know it, you’ll be back on track and, quite possibly, leading the pack!

[photo by the bridge]

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