How To Get Through The Never-Ending To-Do List

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I’m a list maker. There’s something very gratifying for me to be able to cross things off my “list”. They’re done. Finished. It feels good and satisfying. I’m sure you list-makers can relate. But what about the task list that never ends? The one that just keeps getting bigger and becomes overwhelming? Do you have one of those? Tackling the never ending to do list can be quite a feat – even for someone like me who gets so much satisfaction from “getting things done”. How do you successfully get through that never-ending task list? Is it even possible?

Many of my clients are high achieving, high performing, and high-stress women who have not one but many never-ending ‘to-do’ lists. Sometimes these lists can become overwhelming, to the point where they are avoided, and then become an even bigger source of stress for my clients. What I typically hear them say is “If I can just get through this pile of things to do, then I’d feel better” or “If I can just plow through this list, then my mind would rest and I’d feel at peace”, or “When this to-do list is complete, I’ll take a day off”. What they often discover is that approaching the list from that perspective usually doesn’t work because the to-do list never ends. We know this is true. Busyness never ends. There will always be “things to do” on top of the things we already have to do. Waiting for the to-do list to be complete to feel better or feel at peace or take the day off turns into a never-ending waiting game. What my clients also discover is that approaching your to-do list or feelings of overwhelm or excessive busyness from the opposite approach is what helps tackle the tasks on the list successfully – even those that seem to never end.

What the opposite approach means is first, stop and take a breath. Allow yourself space to rest and feel at peace before tacking the list. Take the day off first and then work on the big pile of things on your desk. When you feel overwhelmed to the point of avoiding what you have to “do”, it’s a big sign from yourself that you need a break. But those signs are typically ignored – we think we need to push ourselves and plow through the list and THEN we’ll feel at ease. When you push through from the place of overwhelm and exhaustion, you don’t get much done. Why? Because you’re tired. You need a break. You need to allow yourself the space to recharge and restore yourself. Doing this not only makes the task list look less ominous but also helps you actually be productive when you’re working on it.

Giving yourself the time to be at peace, to take a break and feel rested allows you to have more energy and be a 100 times more productive than if you just “plowed through”. I know the tendency is to plow through the never-ending to-dos. It’s my tendency too but it almost never works. I encourage you to do the opposite. The next time you feel overwhelmed by your task list and find yourself saying things like “I’ll schedule the day off when I finish this project” or “Once I get though all this I’ll feel better”, do the opposite. Step away from the list. Take the day off. Go for a 20-minute walk outside and breathe in the fresh air. Recharge yourself, bring yourself peace, and then tackle the to-do list. Just try it and see what happens. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments with us or post your insights on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you!

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