Whenever my life feels crazy, I write a fresh to-do list.
It might take a while to gather up all the bits of paper, Post-It notes, and tasks hastily scribbled on napkins or envelopes, but nothing compares to that sense of relief when everything is rewritten (or typed) clearly and in a single spot.
A to-do list is my roadmap for my business projects, self-care breaks, family plans, and anything else I want to accomplish. The color-coded, perfectly numbered items make my methodical Type A mind very happy.
But for many of my clients, a to-do list is a torture device!
I’m sure they’d rather I pull out all their teeth than make them organize and evaluate their monster to-do lists.
To-do lists can become so overwhelming that you’ll avoid looking at them or hopelessly try to keep a running list of tasks in your head instead of on paper.
And when you reach that ultimate level of frustration, you’ll freeze up, do nothing for weeks, and then complain that you can’t “get it together.”
It’s a hopeless cycle: write a to-do list, get overwhelmed, give up, then write a new to-do list, get overwhelmed, and give up again.
Your to-do list is not the enemy! You’re just making some common mistakes that only add to your “so-stressed-out-gonna-strangle-somebody” feeling.
Let’s keep this short and sweet so you can get back to doing your good work instead of freaking out.
Here are 3 quick fixes for your to-do list overwhelm.
1. Delete one thing.
This is Step 2 of the Life Editing Process, and you know how much us Life Editors love to delete bad influences!
Look at your to-do list and choose one item to cross off right now without actually doing the thing. As Queen Elsa says, “Let it go, let it goooo!”
Be completely honest with yourself and you’ll see that there are things we do out of obligation that don’t matter in the long run.
Maybe you don’t have to drive your kids all over town. Maybe you don’t have to attend that committee meeting.
Give yourself permission to delete one unimportant thing so you can free up time for the stuff that truly matters.
2. Put a boundary around your time.
Have you ever re-written a task over and over again on your weekly to-do lists? Time keeps passing by but you never seem to check off that nagging open loop.
Create a strict boundary around your time by choosing deadlines for each item. Maybe you need to make that phone call no later than Friday. Maybe you can set a timer for 1 hour and write a blog post.
A time boundary creates a sense of urgency so you’ll feel an invisible push to complete the task instead of letting it fester for weeks.
Many of my clients do a daily “power hour” where they tackle all the boring/frustrating to-do items that would normally drag on forever.
3. Hide your master to-do list.
**picks up megaphone** “STOP WORKING FROM YOUR MASTER TO-DO LIST!!!”
The biggest mistake people make with their projects is working from a master to-do list (also known as a brain dump list).
Of course, I want you to have a notebook or file to capture all your ideas and action items as you think of them, but it’s maddening to try to figure out your next steps when your list is 10 pages long.
I feel stressed out just thinking about it!
At the beginning of each week, review your master to-do list and choose only the tasks that absolutely must be completed that week. Then put no more than 3 items on your daily to-do list.
Hide your master to-do list so you won’t get distracted or overwhelmed by things that can wait for the next week or even the next month.
Consider writing your 3 daily to-do items on a small sticky note and putting it on your desk so you only focus on those important tasks today. You’ll feel capable and proud when you easily accomplish that smaller daily to-do list.
Easy Edit: This week try one of these quick fixes to make your to-do list less overwhelming. Breathe. . . think small and doable.
This post focuses on Step 2 of the Life Editing Process, Delete Bad Influences. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.