Do you ever feel like your to-do list is completely overwhelming you? You’d rather walk across a bed of legos than tackle the massive list in front of you? Keep reading to learn my 5 tips to conquer your to-do list overwhelm!
I tend to put things off. It’s not something I’m always aware that I’m doing, but the fact remains that sometimes I just don’t get to things right away. It leads to a lot of anxiety, shame, and paralysis. That might seem extreme to you but picture this:
I get excited about the week and as I’m planning it out (in my head or on paper) I remember I need to call this customer support and also call to make a few appointments. It’s Sunday night so I need to wait for the next day. The next morning comes and I’m tired and feel like listening to worship music all the way to work so I’ll just make the calls after work. I get done after work and my 5-year-old is telling me all about her day, wants a snack, and then I remember we need milk so I decide we need to run to the store. After we pick up the boys from school, it’s 4:00 pm and I need to either make the calls now or start dinner. The kids are claiming they’re starving so I get started on dinner. All of a sudden it’s bedtime!
And the cycle continues. Maybe you can relate or maybe you can’t believe I’d put off two phone calls like that all week. Think whatever you want but the point is that this cycle doesn’t make me feel good about myself and I beat myself up for it.
This is something I have been learning about myself and that knowledge has given me the awareness to work on my mindset around perfectionism and fear. Perfectionism that says I need to do it completely and perfectly or not at all, and fear that hates to mess up and believes that I will mess up somehow. In sharing this I’m not saying this is something I’ve overcome. It’s something I work on daily. But I want to share some tips that have helped me overcome the paralysis of overwhelm and shame.
Tip #1 Prioritizing Your To-Do List
This tip is going to feel like procrastination… You’re going to think I’m crazy and don’t know what I’m talking about. While that might be true in part, it’s not because of what I’m about to share.
When I am overwhelmed I make a master to-do list of everything. I don’t usually organize the list at this point but sometimes I do in the initial brain dump. For instance, organizing the items by work tasks and then everyday life tasks. The next thing I do is what you’re going to think I’m a hypocrite for doing and suggesting. Go through the list again and make another list of only the things that must be done today. Just those. I don’t mean this week or the things that probably should be done sooner rather than later. I’m talking about sending that picture to your child’s teacher because they’re doing that game tomorrow. (confession, I didn’t get that done.)
Once you have your new list put the bigger list away for right now. You’ll get back to it soon.
Tip #2 Timing The Tasks on Your List
When you write your to-do list, write down how long you think each task will take you to do. That way you can prioritize based on how much time you have. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and if you get it totally wrong it’s fine. When I feel overwhelmed it feels like my to-do list is going to take days to finish. Taking a second to pull my head back to reality makes me feel like Edna Mode… But toward myself. “Pull yourself together!”
One time for fun I decided to time myself loading the dishwasher, sweeping my kitchen floor, and switching the laundry. Tasks that seem like they take me forever. Ladies. It took me TEN MINUTES. I couldn’t believe it. I was so in shock I wrote it down in a note on my phone so I would never forget it! It seems silly but those tasks always felt like they took forever and yet there I was ten minutes later and feeling like I’d accomplished a lot!
Another important note I would like to make on the subject of setting times for your tasks is that I hear a lot the tip “If something takes less than two minutes to do, do it right away!” I think that’s a great tip until I’m two hours deep in running around my house picking up trash, switching the laundry again, putting those three books away, and moving the portable piano keyboard off the dining room table. It’s so easy for me to get swept up in all these two-minute tasks and then consider myself productive even if I’ve ignored the important or urgent things.
Tip #3 Do something-anything!
If you can’t tell already, I am a list maker. I make lists, then I organize the lists, then sometimes I write them in different places so that I have them with me all the time. It’s a really fun and seemingly productive way of procrastinating. I know that having the most beautiful planner is a dream of yours because it is one of mine too. Color-coded and no scratched-out appointments because you’re on the complete wrong week and didn’t realize it.
Having a beautiful planner might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. I am paralyzed in my perfectionism. Is bullet journalling still popular? Yeah, I tried that and it was not for me. I write anything and everything in my planner including all my lists. And I’m slowly learning to accept that the best way to be organized and get stuff done, is to spend less time on the planning and more time on the doing.
I’m not saying that planning is inherently bad, I just know myself and my favorite thing is to plan. But I also need to accomplish. When I plan and plan but don’t accomplish anything I start internally beating myself up because I’m just not doing enough. I’m making these amazing plans but then not following through. This is when the paralysis from shame comes in. I’m ashamed of myself when I see lists and plans that aren’t crossed off and completed. I’ve spent hours “working” and gone back to my to-do list to find that I can’t cross anything off. It’s so disappointing.
One of my favorite things is to work together with my sister. We set up a video call or zoom call and share our to-do lists. Then we mute ourselves and put the call in the background. After a certain amount of time, we come back together and see how many things we’ve gotten done and take a break together. Accountability is so helpful especially when you’re working together!
Tip #4 Finish The Tasks You Start
Have you ever tried to clean your house and it goes something like this?
You start in the kitchen, fill the sink up with water to do the dishes (or you start loading the dishwasher) and realize maybe you should check the house for dishes so you can do them all at once. You leave the kitchen and start grabbing all the dishes your family has left everywhere (why is it always cups??) Then you start realizing that you might as well get the bits of trash too, after all, you’re going room to room so you might as well. Suddenly your arms are full so you head back to the kitchen and dump the dishes in the sink. You go to throw the trash away but the can is full so you need to take that out. I could go on and on but does this sound familiar?
At the end of the day after all of this, you collapse in bed, exhausted, but the house doesn’t look much different at all and you can’t say that you did any of those chores very well.
This might be one of my most important tips. For goodness sake, stop wearing yourself out doing everything and nothing at the same time. Focus on one task at a time. Moms are always “multitasking” because of all the different demands placed on them. But does multitasking really exist? It feels more like a fairy tale. The idea that I can do two, three, or even four things at once and do them well is a little ridiculous if you think about it. Yet that’s what we’re conditioned to believe is normal! Check out this article from Psychology Today and do the exercise the author suggests to test how well you multitask. I bet you’ll be shocked at the result!
I firmly believe that it’s better to follow through on something than to do many things at once and not finish any of them. It’s better to do something imperfectly than to not do it at all.
This tip is simple, yet for me, it was life-changing. I let myself do things half-baked than to do nothing at all.
The concept of following through on your to-do list is something I talk about in this post as well:
Tip #5 Rest and Reward yourself
After you’ve implemented the first 4 tips into your life, you’ll start to see a difference in your productivity. And while I am thrilled that this is happening for you, I want to make sure that you give yourself permission to stop and relax even if your motivation has kicked in and you want to conquer everything at once! Don’t. It is so tempting but the point to all of this is to make sure that you don’t get burnt out and overwhelmed anymore. The surest way to do that is to work until you lose all your momentum and energy.
Trust me, you might be thinking, “But Abbie, the best time to get a lot done is when I’m feeling motivated and am on a roll!” and you might be right in some situations. But if you rely on motivation all the time you are going to be exhausted. Productive, but exhausted. I know the feeling and it’s so tempting but remember the tortious and the hare? Slow and steady. Rest, relax, and know that you have a routine that doesn’t force you to work till you drop because you got behind.
I am rooting for you as you put in the work to get through the to-do list that is overwhelming your system right now. I’ve been where you’re at so please remember that you’re not alone! Grab that accountability partner and start by doing just one thing. Soon you will feel more in control and feel like maybe you can breathe again. Leave a comment when you’ve finished your first task! You’ve got this, friend.