Have you ever taken one look at your to-do list and wanted to crumble it up and throw it away?
Or are you more like me and haven’t even written your to-do list down? It just pops up as a series of worries in your head when you’re trying to get to sleep.
The truth is, a well-thought-out to-do list can be the perfect tool for keeping you on track. But when that list makes you feel stressed and overwhelmed, it can actually hurt your productivity more than it helps.
Brain Dump Everything
I love the idea of a brain dump because I can write everything down and get my thoughts out of my head. It’s stressful to try to remember everything, and I end up spending too much time thinking too hard about the tasks I need to get done. When I write it all down, it’s like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.
Take about 10-15 minutes at the beginning of the week (I like to do this on Sunday mornings), and either type or write out everything you can think of that you need to get done. Don’t worry about the order of the list, just write it all down. I usually like to listen to a playlist of 3-4 songs, and I don’t stop writing until the playlist is complete.
Sort Out Your New List
So now you have a nice big list of everything you need to get done. But how do we sort it out? First let’s put things into categories. I like color coding, so I usually start with these:
- work- blue
- blog- pink
- family- red
- household- purple
If there are any tasks that are date-specific, I add that task on a post-it note to my calendar for that day.
Pick Your Top Three Priorities
Every morning, I reference my brain dump list, and I start with my “Top 3”. These are the three things on my list that are most important to get done that day.
I know it’s hard to pick just three, but I promise it will help. And it doesn’t even have to be three whole tasks. If you have something big to accomplish, split your larger task into smaller ones, and pick one of the smaller tasks to add to your priorities.
Tackle the Hardest Task First
Have you ever read the book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy? It’s an awesome book about productivity, but the biggest idea is that we should be tackling the hardest task on our list first. Not only will it help you focus on your biggest and hardest task to start your day while you’re fresh, but when you’re done, you’ll feel accomplished.
Set a Timer…
The same way I brain dump to a set playlist, I also like to give myself a set time to knock out important tasks. I know I can get distracted easily. So if I tell myself I only have to focus for 20 minutes before I can move on to something else, I’m much more likely to stick to my task for the whole time.
This also helps me with my perfectionist procrastination. I tend to stall in finishing projects because I am constantly worried about making them perfect. To help alleviate that, I give myself a set time to complete it, and another timer to edit/proof it. Then I hit submit.
This blog post is a great example. I set a timer for 25 minutes, and I wrote nonstop for the entire time. When the timer went off, I hit save, and I moved on to something else.
Later in the day, I came back to reread it and made edits for another 25 minutes. Once that timer went off, I moved to complete my other blog checklist items (categories, tags, images, etc). And when that was done, I scheduled it for publishing.
If I had not pushed myself to schedule it, this post would still be sitting in drafts while I try to find a million other tips to add to it.
When the timer stops, I can either move on to something else, or I can take a quick break.
…and Actually Take a Break
Yeah, I know it’s easy to say “take a break”, but when you’re busy and overwhelmed, that break can seem like an indulgence you don’t have. I know it’s tough but take the break anyway.
Even just ten minutes of time away from the stress of your seemingly daunting tasks can change your mindset.
So take a moment. Breathe. Count to ten. Grab a glass of water. Take a walk.
And then come back to your tasks with a clear head.
How do you tackle your to-do list when you start to feel overwhelmed?