Back to Focus with eduPDCA – How to get back to work when the todo list feels overwhelming

Your todo list is so long that you don’t know how to start? Today I want to share a little motivation hack that serves me quite well in exactly such situations.


I guess we’ve all been in such situations:
We get stuck when we even think about all that needs to be done. The deadline approaches but every time we want to start we feel blocked. What could we do to trick ourselves back to get things done?

Focus on the Experiment with eduPDCA

The Problem

A couple of years ago I completed a education while working full time with honours.
When I started my current program I had so much fun and everything was easy.
I used to have plenty of motivation so I had no tricks, strategies or rewards in place in case I would need them.

Now there I was struggling to prepare for an actually pretty easy exam. I was really blocked, felt scared and desperate and angry! The fact that the subject was easy made it actually worse: I can not fail because of such an easy subject, right!?

… what the heck is different now?, I wondered and started to wrap my mind around analysing the gap.

I was determined to get my motivation and focus back, no matter what.

The Analysis

What made me successful then? What makes me fail now?

I compared the learning strategies I applied at the start of the current program to my previous approach. And I – fortunately – found a promising little detail …

Back then I was trying a lot of new tricks and tools and techniques for learning. I was so scared to “go back to school” after so may years that I made the whole thing to a big “learning how to learn” project. Most of the time I was so totally engaged in my experiments that I had actually no time to feel stressed about the high workload. That is an interesting insight!

The Hypothesis

Here´s the underlying assumption:

I can focus so much on experiments to learn more effectively and efficiently that the actual learning output is rather a by-product and therefore not scary anymore. So I will NOT suffer from being overwhelmed because the long todo list is just a necessary part of the experiment.

So that´s the trick:

DON´T think about that high workload, the long list, the many hours of work to complete one task after another.

DO think about the experiment and use the task completion to validate, reject or refine your experiment


The Process

So now what? Here it goes …

Plan your experiment

  • choose a new tasks management tool to organise your weekly work … like trello 😉
  • try a new method to estimate the size of tasks … such as story points 😉
  • use a new method to plan your assignements … such as eduscrum 😉
  • create a visual management system on the wall … like a kanban board or a burndown chart 😉

Do the experiment

  • complete your tasks using that new method/tool/… to see if it works


Check your findings

  • so, has it worked as expected?

Act on your findings

Depending on the outcome adapt your system …

  • make the new thing to the standard and choose a new experiment
  • refine your experiment and start a new run
  • discard the thing you tried and choose a new experiment

The Conclusion

So for me that meant to …

  • start again following bloggers who write about self management, time management, learning techniques, tools etc to get inspiration
  • run small (micro) experiments to improve learning strategies
  • forget the long todo lists, deadlines, workload
  • think about the next easy step and leave the rest to the plan
  • do weekly planning sessions to ensure that deadlines are met and that there always is a list of easy next steps at hand
  • make work visual (wall @home, iPad @onthego): kanban board, calendar, …
  • put the potential next steps into trello (or your favourite task management tool) and make sure that they are small enough to be easily started
  • make starting easy
  • and one more very personal conclusion that might not work for you:
    treats don´t work for me > nurture the intrinsic motivation
    > the best reward is burning a deliverable down 😀

Happy learning!


This blog is a digital memory for me. I store nuggets of information, ideas and resources on these pages so that I can access and share them easily at any time, from everywhere. I always felt a strong passion for continuous improvement and that is why I am now super happy to be a professional Scrum Master. Scrum, Kanban, Agile Project Management, Coaching, Learning and Self Management are my passions and that is also what my blog is about ...

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