Do you ever have so much to do that you don’t know where to start or how to get it all done? To-do list chaos and mind-frazzle is so real. We have a million responsibilities and even more distractions that, some days, checking off everything that we think needs to get done feels like a steep uphill fight.
It often feels like failure when we don’t complete the full to-do list… I’m a victim of this, too. I feel the pressure of finishing all the things and sometimes find myself judging my success on how much I can achieve in a given day.
My biggest tip for avoiding those feelings of inadequacy is giving yourself a jumpstart. Every afternoon, write down two or three tasks for the next day that are fairly small and achievable, so you can win on a handful of actions right away.
This makes the entire day flow so much better.
You’ll just feel better and more productive first thing in your day. It revs up momentum quickly so you can continue on with the rest of your responsibilities with a little more energy.
A few weeks ago, I did this on a Monday afternoon. I wrote out my to-do list for Tuesday, and it started with a few simple tasks: walk my dog (they don’t always have to be work-related!), update slides for a conference I’m speaking at, and create a PDF download for a giveaway at the conference. Check, check, check.
I also added a few more things that I wanted to complete, and that’s when things got a bit hairy: review and revise a blog post, record audio note outlines to send to my writer for two more upcoming blog posts, write resumes for two clients... Oh, and I had to run to Target to pick up some candy and treats for a neighborhood egg hunt AND spend at least an hour and a half stuffing the plastic eggs with candy.
Tuesday rolled around, and I ended up knocking out my starter to-do list tasks and then spending about 2.5 hours at the egg-stuffing gathering. I was totally drained by 2 p.m. but still had a long list of seemingly imperative tasks ahead of me. I felt discouraged and exhausted, so I stopped to ask myself a few questions to get really clear on the “why” behind every to-do list bullet point.
When you notice your list is getting distressingly bulky and long, ask yourself…
1. Is this realistic?
If the answer is yes, great! Keep chugging along. If it’s no, like mine that Tuesday, try reflecting on a few things that will set you up for success and lend a different perspective. No one likes to feel like they’re failing, and certain mindset shifts increase your chances of being set up for long-term success.
I’ve had to practice these shifts time and time again, and they really allow me to step out of a place of hitting a wall and into a headspace much more conducive to productivity and positivity. The next two questions will help you adjust your stance around a to-do list that seems to be beating you down…
2. What does success look like today… this week… this month?
You could even get into this season, this quarter or as broad as this year or the next several years. What does short-term versus long-term success look like for you? Odds are that anchoring it into bigger pieces will pull you out of today and remind you that not everything has to get done right this instant. It allows you to step back and realize you do have time.
When I scaled it out and looked as far as 5 to 10 years in the future, I knew it was okay that I had to cancel most of my to-do list to volunteer in my neighborhood that Tuesday. The restructured responsibilities won’t really matter a month or a year (or more) down the line, and it was more important in that moment to show up for my community.
Pausing and connecting with your vision, purpose and big goals helps to pull you out of the weeds, reminding you that you’re here for bigger things than a bunch of tasks.
3. What can I delegate, delete and delay?
Who in your life is there to support and help you? I have to be intentional about asking my husband, clients and even my team for a hand. I’m in a season of practicing receiving help… and it’s an ongoing process that isn’t always easy.
To be totally honest, I don’t think it’s natural. Our society tells us to get more done with less time and resources. It doesn’t teach us to ask for help or support. But a successful person understands that you can’t do it all alone.
To finish the rest of my to-do list from the other day, I actually needed more info from a client to work on her resume and couldn’t proceed until I asked for answers. I also could have asked my husband if he’d be able to run to Target for the treats. It’s all about reorganizing so everything isn’t falling solely on you.
For deleting, consider what doesn’t need to be done. I can promise you that there’s almost always something to cut. For me, the second blog post recording wasn’t really necessary that day―or even that week. Now, what can you remove from your list?
And for delay, what is okay to put off for another day or two? Often, we put a lot of stress and aggressive deadlines on ourselves to get ahead. But when we don’t always hit the mark, it can have the opposite effect.
Give yourself some grace and space to take your time. Delay what isn’t absolutely necessary when the to-do list gets too long, and your priorities will suddenly seem a lot more cohesive.
Productivity is completely subjective.
It’s personal. It’s based on where you’re at emotionally, energetically, professionally, relationally… To-do lists are an awesome tool, but don’t let them steal your worth or distract you from your bigger purpose. Start small, gain momentum and remember it’s okay to pivot when you need to.