Why do monster to-do lists inspire overwhelm instead of productivity?
It’s so frustrating. Just when you need to be able to turn it on and turn it up your brain has gone to sleep, you can’t think clearly, and your tendency to procrastinate has gone into overdrive.
Instead of churning through your list, you find yourself staring at the screen, brewing a million and one cups of coffee, and doing everything but the one thing you’ve got to get done.
ARGH! It’s a vicious circle too.
When you don’t get stuff done, you get further behind, which makes you feel more overwhelmed than ever.
So what’s the solution? How can you cut through overwhelm to reclaim your mojo and bring it on?
We’ve got your back! Try one (or more) of these 10 ideas and you’ll soon be working away like a boss.
1. Take a deep breath!
When you can’t think straight and your thoughts are rushing at a million miles per hour, it’s virtually impossible to do anything but stress!
Breathing calms your mind so you can recenter yourself and free up space to think.
Simply take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to relax as you exhale. The weight to drop off your shoulders and you’ll remember you CAN do this. Remove some of the panic and suddenly your next steps will be a whole lot clearer.
2. Write down EVERYTHING you need to do.
When there’s too much to do it’s super hard to concentrate and focus. Your mind ends up jumping from one thing to another, your head is full of all the things you need to do, and there’s little bandwidth left to work.
You can boost your productivity by writing down your master to-do list. With everything out of your head and onto paper, you can see clearly what you’ve got to do. And with more space to think, you’ll get more done quicker.
3. Prioritize your to-do list
You can reduce the size of your to-do list instantly through prioritization. Your list may be long, but not everything will be urgent or important. There will definitely be things you can push to another day, give to someone else, or scratch off entirely.
Make your day’s workload manageable by identifying the things you HAVE to get done. This easy coding system will help. Look through all your to-dos and label them as a 1, 2, or a 3.
- 1 = Top priority. Something that must be done today (and by you)
- 2 = Still important, but can wait for another day
- 3 = Delegate, outsource, or cross off your list altogether.
With your list organized in this way, you can see at a glance what you really have to get done. It won’t be as much as you think.
4. Plan your day
With a finite amount of time and a series of tasks you must complete, you have to get smart with your time management for the day.
A prioritized to-do list isn’t enough because you’ll lose time to Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fill the amount of time you give it. So close those open windows by giving each task a start and end time and use those deadlines to keep focused. Estimate how long each task will take and schedule it appropriately using a tool like the SELF Journal. This practice will ensure you spend no longer than necessary on each task so you get more done in less time.
5. Eat that frog!
When planning your day, make sure you tackle your biggest most challenging task first - this is your ‘frog’. According to Brian Tracy (who wrote the book Eat That Frog), your frog is:
“Your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it now. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.” (p. 2)
Here’s why you should tackle this task first:
• Even if you’re not tackling ‘that’ task, it’s going to steal your energy and bandwidth. You know how it is… if there’s a task you don’t want to do that has to get done it weighs you down! Far better to clear it asap so you can crack on with everything else.
• Get that frog ticked off and you’ll clock up a big win. This will leave you energized and motivated and more likely to keep going so you can tick even more off of that huge to-do list.
• You have a finite amount of willpower. Try to ‘eat that frog’ when your energy and enthusiasm are low and it’s going to take you 10x longer!
6. Get started with one Pomodoro
With your frog identified, it’s time to take action.
But how do you get the ball rolling on a task that’s difficult, boring, or super long? The simple answer is you just start! And the easiest way to do that is with the Pomodoro technique.
This proven productivity practice inspires you to tackle your work in short, hyper-focused sprints. Set a timer for 25 minutes and get your head down. Resist the temptation to get distracted or side-tracked with your thoughts or the next thing on your to-do list and just double-down on the task at hand.
This technique works because you can always motivate yourself to work hard on something for 25 minutes. It’s only 25 minutes and then you can take a quick break!
Here’s the thing…
Starting is the hardest part of any task. Get yourself moving and you’ll build that all-important momentum. Focus on getting out of the starting blocks and you’ll find it a whole lot easier to keep going all the way to the end of the task.
7. Focus on ONE thing.
With a lot of work to get through it’s tempting to try and multi-task - after all, doesn’t then mean you’ll get things finished faster.
Actually, no! When you multitask you’re not actually doing multiple things at the same time. Instead, your brain is switching from one task to another. This doesn’t boost productivity, it drains it. That’s because it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to get back into a deep focus mode after a shift in attention.
So set yourself up so you focus on one thing at a time. Turn off your phone, switch off notifications, and ensure you won’t be interrupted. You’ll whizz through all those tasks in super quick time!
8. Say NO
Are you the type of person who likes to keep other people happy? If so, you’ll probably find it hard to say no. It’s a problem because you end up putting yourself under additional pressure.
Give yourself permission to say no. Not only will you protect your own boundaries and time, but you’ll ensure you don’t hit the wall because you’ve taken on too much.
9. Ask for help.
You’re probably used to juggling a number of roles. Even if you get on top of your work to-do list, there’s not a chance you’ll get to take it easy when you get home! There’s always more to take care of.
You don’t have to do it all alone. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Take some time to figure out what chores your kids can take care of? A little extra responsibility is probably good for them. What can your partner take off your to-do list? Is there a friend you can ask to sit the kids for a few hours so you can get on top of it all?
When you feel supported, it’s so much easier to push yourself to finish.
10. Appreciate yourself
When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to beat yourself up for all the things you didn’t get to do (and all the things you should have done). But what does this achieve other than making you feel bad!
We’re often our own worst enemy. We forget how much we do on a day-to-day basis and how much we are able to hold together. So in the moments when you feel down, remind yourself who you really are.
Think about all the things you’ve achieved and all the things that happen because you show up every day. Shift your perspective by choosing to look at your situation through a lens of possibility and positivity and you’ll feel on top of it all in no time.
Remember, there’s always a way out of overwhelm.
Things are never as bad as you thought they were when you have the benefit of hindsight.
And somehow, you always manage to get it all done anyway!
So on those days when you feel bogged down and neck deep, remember you’ve got this. One step at a time, you have what it takes to turn that overwhelming to-do list into a series of dones.