Seven tips for managing the overwhelming to-do list

No matter how much planning, preparation, and winnowing of your schedule you do, there are still times when responsibilities can wreak havoc on your to-do list. Whether at work or at home, there will be days or weeks when a lot of things just have to get done. How you face and perceive these challenges, though, will determine your stress and anxiety levels throughout this process.

  1. Maintain perspective. Now is the time to remind yourself of the big picture and of the temporary nature of this stress. Why are you taking on these responsibilities? What is the goal of all your hard work? Looking at the end result reinforces the temporary nature of your current condition.
  2. Don’t lose sight of the details. Be sure every vital to-do item is written on your list and methodically work your way through these items. If an important action is not on your list, you’ll worry about it unnecessarily. Also, remember the KISS principle and get the most important work done first.
  3. Embrace some of the stress. A little bit of stress (what is known as short-term, fight-or-flight stress) can be a good thing, especially if it helps to push you through your work. Use any stress you’re feeling to your advantage to give you a boost of energy to get many items checked off your list.
  4. Take breaks. Research shows that you’ll be more productive if you alternate between mindful and mindless work. You’re more likely to finish all of the items on your list if you take a short break for mindless work for at least five or 10 minutes every hour.
  5. Manage expectations. Regularly check in with the people who are waiting on the completion of your to-do items. The more they know about where you are in the process, the better they can anticipate and plan their to-do lists. How often and how detailed your updates need to be will be determined by the type of responsibilities you have.
  6. Don’t extend the stress. Now is not the time to take on a new project. Schedule appointments to talk about new opportunities for a few days or weeks down the line. You don’t have to say, “no,” you just need to say, “not right now.”
  7. Celebrate. When you’re finished with your massive to-do list, or at least the extremely weighty parts of it, take time to celebrate. You don’t need to go on a vacation (although, vacations are nice), but a reward of some kind is definitely in order. I’m quite fond of a walk to the ice cream shop.

5 Comments for “Seven tips for managing the overwhelming to-do list”

  1. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    I also find it helpful to check the to-do list for ‘clutter’ such as –

    – Malingerers: items that get added to successive to-do lists week after week
    – Busywork: tasks that make you feel virtuous but contribute little to your important projects
    – Other people’s priorities: tasks you feel guilted into putting on your list.

    I have a post on decluttering your to-do list here: http://www.getorganizedwizard......ission-43/

  2. posted by Adam Anderson on

    I’ve just started using the Pomodoro Technique. It provides a simple framework for hitting each of the points you brought up. It also helps you learn how to improve your work habits and get more done with less stress.

    When are you guys going to do a write-up on it anyway? 😀

  3. posted by Jen on

    I’ve also found that it’s useful for me to write down every single task on a to-do list, no matter how small (even things like making the bed, or switch the laundry, stuff that takes 1-2 minutes at most). That way, I get to cross off items more frequently, which is kind of a mood-booster. That can keep me going a little bit longer. This is also good for breaking down bigger tasks into smaller parts, making them seem less overwhelming.

  4. posted by @albandali on

    Great post Erin,

    I often make to-do lists and find that when I reflect at the end of the day, I have not completed as much as I would have hoped. thanks for posting these practical tips for us :)) I’m going to wake up tomorrow and use them and am sure that they will boost my productivity :))

    Best Regards,

  5. posted by Louise D'Allura Revamp Professional Organisers Pty Ltd on

    GREAT tips!!!

    I’d like to add an extra one in there -GET HELP!

    Do you keep doing things you hate or aren’t very good at? Are you really the right person to be doing the task in the first place. So often we keep doing things we are just not great at or someone else could do better or faster.

    If doing the cleaning or ironing takes you forever could it be something you outsource? If you are much better at cooking or reading with your children, that is probably a better use of your time and to dos!

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