The goals you have for your life are only as good as your daily to-do list. You can make all the grand plans you want, but if you don’t stay on track each day, you won’t reach those goals. To-do lists are for people who believe in their dreams and their ability to reach them. List makers create daily plans for success. In other words, everyone should have a daily to-do list.

If you aren’t careful, however, your list will become more of a procrastination aid than dream machine. Here are seven typical ways you can undermine your list:

1. Ignore it. This is my pet thing to do. If I can’t handle my life that day, I don’t look at my list. This allows me to think I don’t need to do anything. But then the rest of the week is hell because I’m compensating for stuff I ruined by ignoring it. It would have been easier to review my list, accomplish the most pressing items, and then go back to bed.

2. List vague tasks. Take, for example, “work on presentation”. When is this job finished? How many things need working on? Why would you start this chore if you have no plan for completing it? This item is like poison ivy — you see it and go another direction. Break down the items on your list into manageable parts. Besides crossing items off the list is fun, and the more to cross off the better.. I’ve been known to write “buy envelopes” as one of the tasks needed to send resumes. It’s an easy step in a hard process — makes me feel like I’m getting something done in my big-picture goal of landing a job.

3. Create a wish list. A wish list is not a to-do list. It’s important to have life goals and it’s nice to be lofty, but no point in putting “buy a house” on your to-do list. If you really can buy a house, try listing an easier item like, “call mortgage broker” If you can’t get that far, make a list of things you’d like to have in 10 years. Include “buy a house” and post this list on your fridge. Then get back to your to-do list — every 10-year plan is the culmination of 3,650 daily to do lists.

4. Switching manically between types of tasks. E-mail, phone, errand, e-mail, phone, errand. This is not a productive day. A good day is e-mail,e-mail, e-mail, phone, phone, phone, errand, errand, errand. So organize your to-do list so that you do all your e-mails in one or two sittings.

5. List items you’d like to do but shouldn’t. These are fun things like learn 1000 words in Italian or knit an extra-large sweater. Most working professionals do not have time for these in a typical day. Unproductive adults indulge themselves in doing them anyway because it makes them feel productive. I know I do not have time to make cupcakes for my husband’s birthday and I should buy him a cake from the local bakery. But I put “making cupcakes” on my to-do list anyway, and then, when he comes home, I’m annoyed because making his cupcakes ruined my workday.

6. Lose sight of the big picture. How many people are unemployed but don’t have “get a job” on their list? If you’re among them, good for you — because “get a job” is too vague. But you should include job-search-related tasks, such as “Send out six resumes” or “make two networking calls”. So many people omit chores related to their most important goal because they seem obvious. But if you don’t put them on the list, they won’t happen.

7. Write a novel. A list is not a novel. It is one page.

1. Don't be the hardest worker.
No one can work 70-hour weeks forever without losing their mind — or at least their perspective. You need to pace yourself. Besides, at this kind of pace, you may not always the best worker, but you’ll surely look like the most desperate.

2. Hire people you wouldn't want as friends.
Diverse business teams are more successful than homogenous teams. Creating diversity doesn't mean hiring one guy from each fraternity. It means hiring people who scare you, disagree with you and think in totally different ways than you.

3. Don’t fear failure.
Most people who have wild success have wild failure first. Have your failure early and significantly so that you're primed for success.

4. Learn to write direct mail.
A resume is a piece of direct mail. At best, it will get a 10-second scan from a hiring manager trying to decide whether to interview you. Know how to control what happens in those 10 seconds. Hint: You don't want the person to spend that time reading “References available upon request.”

5. Bake cookies for your team.
Surprise people with your caring and kindness. They will view you — and your mistakes — much more generously. Also, showing your soft side at the office is risky. Cookies are softness without the risk that you're revealing too much.

6. Give the brand of you a rest.
You cannot get to the top alone, so stop looking at yourself like you're a one-man show. Education is the No. 1 factor in determining who will be successful. The caliber of your stable of mentors is the No. 2 factor. So start looking outside yourself. You need help.

7. Blend in.
Do not stand out for how your dress. Stand out for your intelligence and creativity. If you dress in a way that makes people look at your clothes, then you say “look at me for my clothes”. If you dress in a way where no one notices what you are wearing then you force people to look at you for your brains. Remember, though, that boring, frumpy fashion stands out as much as flashy, funky fashion.

8. Toss the business books: Read fiction.
Your career is as dependent on your people skills as it is on your professional skills, so read books and magazines that help you to understand people. Read novels your co-workers recommend, and you'll have reliable repartee for weeks. Besides, most non-fiction tells you about peoples' mistakes, but fiction describes what’s achievable.

9. Say no frequently.
Be choosy about how you spend your time so that each project you work on becomes a great bulleted item on your resume. Don't work on projects that don't matter, will get killed or are clearly mismanaged. When your boss asks you to do something you don't have time for, remind her of her priorities and say you want to work on what’s most important to her. This is a professional way of saying no to unimportant assignments.

10. Ignore the urgent stuff.
Most urgent items on your to-do list are not big-picture items. But it’s the big-picture tasks that will make a significant difference in your career. So block off time each day to work solely on big-picture aspects of your to-do list. You don't have to be a visionary at work. But if you aren’t a visionary for your life, who will be?

The last week of December is the busiest time for customer service reps who are fielding calls from customer's whose gifts don't work. For most other office workers, this week is dead. And if you are in the office this week, you are probably looking for something to do.

1. Plan
Here's the first thing to do: Devise a plan for how to get out of working this week next year. Movers and shakers do not get swindled into working during this notoriously slow time of year. People who run out of vacation days work this week. People who have unreasonable bosses work this week. People in control of their jobs are at home licking their chops. You need more control over your job.

2. Date
Have you had your eye on the customer service rep on the floor below yours? Now's the time to make your move because you know your target is at work this week. Saunter down to his desk around lunchtime and invite him to the cafeteria. No one will be there because service reps are eating at their desk and everyone else is eating in their grandma's living room. So you will have an intimate date at the cafeteria, and if the person goes ballistic that you hit on him at the office you can say, “How can you think I was hitting on you? We were in the cafeteria for god's sake.” (Warning: It is not illegal to hit on someone at work. But I definitely do not recommend that you a. bug someone relentlessly or b. hit on someone who you have authority over.)

3. Eat
You know all the cookies and candy that vendors sent to the office last week? Well, it's still there, getting a little more rotten every day. So do everyone a favor and take some home. Think of it as a perk for showing up to work during what is, essentially, a holiday.

4, Surf
I like the Borowitz report. My husband thinks it's stupid and would tell you to go to the Onion. You might think this has nothing to do with your career, but my brother interviewed for a job in London, and made an off-the-cuff reference to an Onion article and the interviewer said, “Oh, I read that one, too.” So it is important to surf so that you can establish rapport during your interviews. Do not go to porn sites. The people who monitor your surfing habits can get to you even if they are not at work this week. Besides, porn surfing is not a reliable way to establish interview rapport.

5. Sleep
Everyone wants to sleep at their desk, but few people do it. In fact, I would say that more people have sex at their desk than sleep at their desk. Sleep is the new forbidden frontier of office debauchery. So go ahead. After all, there's no one around right now. Have a lunch laden with carbohydrates and go back to your desk as your sugar crash sets in. Now put your head gingerly on your desk, maybe on top of a pile of scruffy papers, and close your eyes. You have earned this treat — you showed up to the office between Christmas and New Year's.

It was one of those nights when my husband rolled over to my side of the bed. Usually this is the first step toward the grand maintenance of our fairly normal marriage. But this night was different. On this night I said, “I can't. It'll ruin my career.”

“Huh?” He was baffled and not quite stopped in his tracks.

“What about me hosting that TV show?” I said. “I can't be pregnant.”

And herein lies the reason that every girl should bring her career to bed with her: Pregnancy is not good for a career. A large belly is limiting; a kid even more so. But society's own perception of a mom vs. a career girl are the most limiting constraints of all.

I know because I planned my first pregnancy around my high-powered career. Everyone told me, “Don't rush. You have plenty of time.” So I didn't rush. I waited until I had made my way through two of my own companies, working long very parent-unfriendly hours. I waited until I could relocate my career across country to be in the same city as my husband. And then, just as my perfect plan reached its apex, the World Trade Center fell two blocks from my company, putting me out of a job. And all the work I did to build an impressive resume was undone when I showed up pregnant for job interviews.

I would like to tell you that employers don't care about pregnancy, but I would be lying. And I can’t fault them for having a negative viewpoint of pregnant job applicants: If two people are equally qualified for the same opening — a common occurrence in this market —the best hire is the one who isn’t five months pregnant- at least in the short term. It’s easy to be philosophical about the long term — how corporate America will only benefit from the systematic accommodation of pregnant women. But the long term is a hard sell to a hiring manager whose bonus isn’t tied to revolutionizing the workplace.

So back to the TV show. Officials with a production company had called to say they like my column and ask me whether I wanted to host a TV show about finance. Of course I was thrilled.

My husband, who’s always skeptical when skepticism isn’t warranted, said, “How can you host a TV show on finance when a company you started went bankrupt?”

“People learn from their mistakes,” I said. Then I said, “Shut up.”

The TV people wanted to interview me so I flew to LA. My husband, Mr. Pessimism, is also Mr. Hollywood (graduated from film school, dated an MTV producer, blah blah). He said, “You need someone to do hair and makeup,”

“They just want to talk to me,” I said.

He said, “They want to see how good you would look on TV.”

So I had someone do my hair and makeup, and I looked great that day. The executives told me they loved my column. They thought my wit and sensibility would come across well on TV. They talked about how the TV show would be structured and the training I would receive in on-air technique. Then they said, “Okay, we'll get back to you.”

My husband said, “That means you'll never hear from them. It's over.”

But if I listened to all my husband's pessimism, I'd have killed myself by now. So I’m still hoping.

Which brings me back to the bed. There we were, talking. We had planned another pregnancy for around this time. But I don't think I’d be hired as a TV host if I were pregnant. By the time we began taping, I'd be very pregnant. It's one thing for Catherine Zeta-Jones to show up really pregnant at the Oscars because the whole world knows she’s hot and she still looks a little hot, belly and all. But my TV audience wouldn’t know if the non-pregnant me was hot. There’s no way I could be pregnant for my TV debut (come to think of it, has anyone been pregnant for their debut as a TV show host?)

And I knew something else: You can't control everything, and there’s no perfect time to have a baby. But one time is better for women than others, and that’s sooner. When I learned the risks of waiting to have a baby, I was shocked. When a woman gets pregnant at 35, her baby has a 1 in 224 chance of being born with Down’s syndrome. There’s a 1 in 200 chance the test for Down’s syndrome will kill the baby. And the odds increase with every passing day. I didn’t hear this when I started a company at 32. Instead I heard, “You have time.”

So now I know I don't have time. And I know that if I put my next pregnancy on hold until I hear from the production company, something else is likely to come up to foil my plan of harmoniously integrating my pregnancy and my career.

We had sex that night. And we hoped for a baby. Because as a seasoned career girl, I know that even if postponing pregnancy would eventually have boosted my career, in the short term, the delay made it too high risk for my liking.

Let’s abolish the word busy. When you ask someone, “How have you been?” and they say, “Busy,” it doesn’t mean anything. I’m sick of it. We all have the same 24 hours to fill. Everyone’s are filled with something.

The difference is that the “busy” people feel frenetic during those hours. Those of you who walk around telling everyone how busy you are, get a grip. Make some tough choices and calm down. There’s a big difference between a busy day and a full day. The former is so frantic that you aren’t effective.

Don’t tell me you can’t help it. You can. Here are the steps to take:

1. Recognize that a frenetic life is a life half lived. You should aim for “Flow,” a concept from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a unique state of mind where productivity and creativity are at their highest. Csikszentmihalyi shows, in his wide-ranging study, that Flow generates the grand ideas, phenomenal work, and intense, rewarding experiences that people identify with happiness.

Flow occurs when you are fully present and engaged in what you are doing; the concept of time melts away in a commitment to the goal-oriented activity. This feeling requires being occupied and engaged for uninterrupted chunks of your day without ever once thinking that you’re rushed for time. People who are busy do not get this feeling.

2. Recognize that you are addicted to busy. You like what busy does for you.
Busy gives you an excuse for poor performance. Busy gives you a way to ignore parts of your life that are falling apart and need attention. And when what you do makes you feel inadequate — for example, if you’re a volunteer, taking care of a parent, meditating or doing other things that are not valued by society — busy gives you something to say that society does value.

Many people mistakenly feel that busy means important. But busy really means out of control. A full day means planned and prioritized. A busy day means frenetic and unorganized. Full is fine. It is expected. But important people have full days, not busy days, because important people can’t afford to be out of control.

3. Prioritize. This does not mean making a to-do list. Nor does it mean making a list of career goals. You need to list what you want in life. It should be a short list, because life is short. Don’t make a list of dreams; you need to give up your dreams. Not all, but most.

This is because being an adult means making choices. It means admitting that we cannot do everything and choosing to devote the time we have to what’s most important. By not making choices, you aren’t facing the realities of adulthood. By scheduling your days with more things than you can accomplish, you are not taking control of your life. You’re letting chance take control. Chance will dictate what gets done because you refuse to prioritize.

4. Say no. Whenever someone asks you to do something, be ready to say no. Your priorities at work, home, and during your personal and networking time should be clear.

Do not worry that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings by saying no. To do something well, you must be focused. That takes self-discipline. But when you say yes to please someone, it shows you lack the self discipline to be truly focused. Saying no is a gift to the people and projects that are the priorities in your life.

You do not automatically have to say yes to everything you’re asked to do at work either. Your boss establishes your priorities. If she then gives you work that would compromise those priorities, you can refuse (with an explanation). Sticking to the plan will makes you look smart and committed.

5. Change how you talk. Don’t ever say again that you’re busy. If this is your current response, realize you can’t bear to give up your dreams and being busy veils your fear of underperformance. You need to say something more honest than busy.

When you have done the first four steps, you will no longer be busy. You will have room to be focused and enthralled. Then, when someone says, “How have you been?” you will have something more interesting and engaging to say than “Busy.”

My ex boyfriend emailed his online personals profile to me and asked me what I thought. I thought it made him look needy and told him so. I said that if he wanted to attract someone with an independent personality he should change the profile. I wrote a few paragraphs that he ended up submitting in his final profile.

It did not surprise me that he used my wording because I am gifted when it comes to composing personal profiles. I edited my cousin's profile and he immediately met his future wife. I thought this was a fluke until I rewrote my friend Liz's profile. Now she is getting married.

My profile-writing abilities are similar to my resume-writing abilities. In both genres, you must include specific achievements that differentiate you in an interesting way but do not make you seem boastful.

I could write an entire column on this: How to leverage your resume-writing skills to get a date. Instead, I want to explain why it’s important to have a clear career focus.

I have a hard time keeping my career focused because I keep thinking about starting new businesses. I have many ideas, but this is typical of me. I launched two companies earlier in my professional life, and most entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs, so I'm sure there will be more coming In fact, my freelance writing career is actually a business, with my writing being the product. I perform all the normal functions of a regular business: marketing, billing, product development and staffing, to name a few.

But here’s where my focus issues emerge. As I work, I keep thinking of new ventures, the latest being, thanks to my ex boyfriend, rewriting peoples' personal profiles.

This idea occurred after my ex asked me to look at the profile of a woman he had considered contacting. (Note: Do not send me emails saying my ex shouldn’t talk to me about this love life — we broke up amicably eight years ago.) So I read the profile, and I was appalled, “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “She screams ‘relationship nightmare.'” I thought this because:
1. Her photo showed her smiling without opening her mouth. This is unnatural. Only people who are hiding something smile like this
2. She wrote mostly about her work and did not appear to have another interest (all recent reading was work related).
3. She said her best friend was her dog.
I could go on. But my next thought was that if she paid me to fix her profile, she wouldn’t have to date psychos. She could attract nice guys. (I don't know what this says about my ex, but trust me, he's a nice guy.)

By now, I had decided the world needed me to start a personality-profile-writing business. She would be my first client. I spent 10 minutes crafting an email to her about why her profile makes her look bad and how I could help her — for a fee. I provided amazing insights so she would trust me. Then I tried to send her my email using her dating-network address.

This was a mistake. As it turned out, I had to join this network to contact her. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to figure out how to sign up for this network. First, I had to create a profile of myself and then, since I’m married, figure out how to use the “hide profile” function. After all that, I was asked to pay a membership fee?

Reality set in. If I was going to invest time and money in this venture, I had to do it right. I needed a business plan — not a long one, but something that would tell me, for instance, how long each profile would take to fix, how much I’d charge and how many pitches I'd need to make to lure a customer. I also would need to advertise on personals sites. Since my success would depend on an initial, online contact, I probably needed to hire a direct mail person to write the email for me.

A career writing personals no longer seemed fun or wise. I had to level with myself. What I really wanted was simply to tell dog lady her ad was terrible on her nickel. Instead, I wrote a column. That is my business now, and for this minute, at least, I am focused.

Here is my current list of things I hate. It's an on-going project that simmers week after week until it reaches boiling point and I have to spend a column venting.

1. People who are not coachable. They get good advice and don't take it because they think they know better. Everyone has blind spots that a little advice can shed light on. If you don't know how to take advice, people will stop giving it to you. And then you will stagnate. And the people who tried to help you will think to themselves, “Good. I was pissed that he wasted my time.”

2. Three-page resumes. Two pages are okay. Sometimes. Like, if you've been in the workforce twenty years, or if you don't know how to enlarge the margins in your word processor. But anything more than two pages is someone who has lost all perspective. There is not enough that is important about your career to fill three pages. You give away to all potential employers that you are mired in detail.

3. The high and mighty. The people who say, “I'd never work for someone I don't respect,” or, “I'd never play office politics to get ahead.” Get real. If you want to be able to put food on your table you will need to learn to work for someone else, to do things a way you don't agree with, to do some work that doesn't matter to you. If you can afford to lose your job constantly in order to stay on moral high ground, then you didn't need a job to begin with.

4. The 8pm meeting. I don't care if you don't have kids. I don't care if no one in your whole company has kids. Each of you still needs to get a life. Just because you have no one sitting in bed waiting for a kiss goodnight doesn't mean you should be at work. Go to the gym. Go to a movie. Participate in aspects of life that do not have a P&L. Well roundedness will make you a more interesting person, and even if you don't care if you're interesting, your co-workers will, so you will do better at work if you leave work.

5. The economically alienated. Don't blow off the company party because you have season tickets to the Opera that night. Don't complain about your butler to people who don't even know what a butler does. It's one thing to have a pay scale as if you are god and the people who work for you are morons. It's another thing to shove that in peoples' faces on a daily basis. Act like you're part of the team or you won't have a team to act for.

6. The people who won't change. Each week I get letters from people who say they hate their job but they can't change it because they have so much seniority. Or they want to stay home with their kids but they don't have enough money. Look, unless you are totally impoverished (and almost no one writes to me from this category except maybe recently divorced moms who have never worked) then you can do it. Sell your house. Move to Kansas. Stop sending kids to camp. If you want something enough, you will figure out how to live on less money. If you don't make the change then admit to yourself that you want money more than – a job you love/full days with your kids/you fill in the blank — and stop complaining.

7. People who don't make lists. Usually these are people who can't face everything they want to do. Or they don't know what they want to do. Either way, making lists can change your life. Start small: Distributing a list of items to cover in a meeting makes you look like a leader. Then get big: Maintaining a list of career goals keeps you focused at work. If you love to make lists, try branching out. Like, make a list of lists you could write. Or make a list of things you hate. It's such a big relief.

The kid competition starts early, with sleep. For the first six months of my son's life, someone would ask me every day, “How's his sleeping?” As if sleep practices are a window into a baby's genius. (And let me tell you something, if sleep is the SATs for babies, I am living with the village idiot.)

Then there are parents who say, “My son adores his books!” like he is the next Shakespeare. And there are the parents who say, “I bought puzzles for her age group but they were too easy for her!” Two words: Who cares?

I am not hoping for an early reader or a math genius. I am looking for my kid to be able to navigate adult life in a way that makes him happy. And since I do not have a trust fund to bequeath, my son will have to find happiness in a career. As a career columnist, I am pretty certain that there are things way more important than sleeping through the night:

1.Take risks
Many people write to me to say they want to change careers and they are too scared. It doesn't matter how gifted these people are: they are stuck because they can't take risks.

Parents are not natural teachers of risk because a parent is all about creating a stable home and keeping the kid from danger. (We have a joke in my family that if my mom is giving someone advice, it must be to do whatever has less risk.)

But if a kid is scared to take risks the kid will get into ruts. The kid will not see possibilities. Adults who take risks understand that failing is okay. Kids need to get practice failing.

2. Be passionate
Many adults cannot figure out what to do with themselves. They have never learned to look inside themselves. They have never developed their own, internal gauges. If you want your kid to figure out what career to go to when she's twenty-five, help her learn to figure out what she's passionate about when she's much younger.

School does not teach passion. In school, a teacher tells kids what to investigate. Whether the kid is a genius or just an average student, school is not teaching him to follow his own passions. (In fact, you could argue that at the end of eighteen years of school, the kid with straight A's had less time than the average student to figure out her own passions; those perfect students are too busy learning what they are supposed to learn.)

There will come a point for your kid when his world is not made of Scantron tests — but of wide-open, connected fields for the kid's dreams. The kid needs a working, internal compass to move in this world.

3. Work hard to attain goals
Gifted kids don't need to work hard to get A's. Pray that you have a normal kid so that schoolwork can be a lesson on working hard. For kids who can do things easily, teach a kid to work hard at something else.

Remember, though, that hard work is not an end in itself. I know too many people who worked hard in school, went on to Ivy League, and now have no idea what to do with themselves.

Hard work only matters in the context of passion and risk taking. Otherwise, you can only work hard at someone else's dreams. So lets all raise dreamers, adventurers and leaders. And don't bug me when I tell you my son never shuts his eyes, because sleep isn't the only place for dreams.

A very major publication just reviewed my friend's book. The reviewer loved the book and as I read the review, each laudatory sentence makes me more ill. I feel an overwhelming moment of self-doubt coming on. I get sweaty and my heart pounds and I feel like the world will end if I don't have sugar.

My moments of self-doubt always begin with the panic that I will not do anything important in my life. I panic that I will not even figure out what is important, let alone do it. Then I have flashbacks to all the teachers who wrote, “Penelope is bright, but she does not work up to her potential.”

Tonight I am so upset I can't even finish my stack of reading. I fear I will read somewhere in my pile that the Nobel Prize committee has decided to make 100 simultaneous awards and they are all to people I know and now everyone I ever talk to will have a Nobel Prize and I won't.

Tonight I am worrying that other people have greatness and there is a finite amount of greatness and it is slipping out of my hands. Also, it is embarrassing to admit to wanting greatness knowing that there is a risk that I will not achieve it.

To calm myself down I eat some Oreos and as the double-stuffness clears my mind, I remember the aspects of my friend's life that are so destroyed that not even an outstanding book review will help:

1. He has been married for fifteen years and cheated on his wife about fifteen times.
2. His mother is overbearing and controlling and spent his book advance on purchases that will not improve her life, or his.
3. His wife's friends hate him so much for his arrogance they do not talk to him.
4. His dog does not play well with others and you can't teach old dogs new tricks.

Okay. There. I am feeling better already.

So I sit down to do the only thing that can make things better: I do my job. I am sure that the best way to face self-doubt is to push through it.

I remind myself that this guy had writer's block for six months, and nearly lost his whole book contract because he wasn't meeting deadlines. He ran out of money three months before he delivered the book and he lived off credit cards, hoping that the book would sell so well that he would earn over and above the initial advance. He pushed himself in the face of failure and even bet on himself a second time.

I can do that. With a clear head I know that everyone who has wild success is someone who had to eat a box of Oreos. Everyone has her moments of huge self-doubt, often in the face of someone else's grand success. But there is not finite success in the world. There is just a finite amount of people who can stomach the pain of wanting success so much.

So tonight I stomach pain. I put the book review on my fridge to remind myself that my friend pushed through his own self-doubt and garnered laudatory reviews from his peers. I sit down to write another column, and eventually my self-doubt dissipates. It always does.

Success in the workplace depends on being a good time manager, because it doesn't matter how good you are at your job if you never have time to do it. Here are the four most important steps you can take to end that feeling that you “can't get everything done”.

Prioritize ruthlessly
Most people who are too busy to get everything done are not really too busy: they are procrastinators. Everyone has time to do the most important thing on their to-do list each day. Most people have time to do the top five things. Problems arise when people do the number eight thing first because it's easy.

Instead of doing the easy things, do the things that will have the most impact. Many days, for me, that means doing one very difficult thing that has the potential for big, long-term reward. The problem is that this one thing probably has a lot at stake; if it goes poorly, then no long-term reward. So I get nervous about doing it. The number-eight task has little impact, so doing it poorly doesn't scare me as much.

In the worst case, this sort of prioritization goes on all day. If you choose to do the easy things first then at the end of the day, when there's no time, you make yourself crazy trying to get the top of your to-do list done. Whereas if number eight is not done, you can go home anyway.

Stop doing research
One of the biggest black holes on a to-do list is research. “I need to read this book before I start writing,” or “I need to have three more numbers before I start the project.” In most cases, you can start without all the research.

My friend Mary just fired someone who procrastinated so much she was frozen at her desk. This person's job was to write client work proposals, but in each case, she would say she needed more information in order to write the proposal. Mary would tell her to make up assumptions for the information she didn't know, and fix it later. But this employee could not do it; she was so scared to get started on the proposals that she could always think of another number she needed from the client.

Sort immediately
Another form of procrastination is pile-making. To read a piece of paper briefly and then put it in a pile to be read again is to double your work. In most cases, though, a pile maker does not want to make a decision about that piece of paper until it is an emergency. If you forced yourself to deal with every piece of paper as soon as you touch it, you will find that you deal with papers in 50% less time.

Barnes & Noble is so convinced of this theory that the company has made touch-it-once company policy. When Barnes & Noble opens a new store, hundreds of workers unpack boxes of books. Some books are easy to shelve and some are difficult. Rather than shelving the easy ones right away and making a pile of difficult ones, employees touch a book only once: you cannot put it down until you know where it goes.

Call a spade a spade
This morning I sat down at my computer to write a column. But first I checked email. (I have four accounts. I checked them all.) Then I rechecked because I thought I should have received a more interesting batch of mail the first time around.

Then I told myself I could surf for just a little. I came a cross a study from the University of Carleton that said cyber-slacking is the new form of procrastination, and it's killing peoples' productivity. I saw myself in that study.

So I took my computer to a local cafe where I cannot connect to the Internet. The Internet is useful, yes, but in most cases, it’s a way to take a break from doing the hard stuff.

It seems that most of time management is being honest with yourself: At each moment, ask if you’re doing the most important thing or the easiest thing. The more honest you are with yourself, the more time you’ll find in your day.