The To-Do List Blues

in Articles, Blog, General, News, Time Management, Uncategorized | by admin | on January 12th, 2011 |
The To-Do List Blues

We all know that feeling of doom that descends on us when there's a big job on our to-to list. (In fact, many's the time I've got lots of other jobs done in the service of postponing that one task I'm avoiding.) What is less obvious is that the same feeling of oppression and being overwhelmed can be created by having a whole bunch of small jobs that have been hanging around forever. This feeling is more insidious, because you can't point to one thing and say, "If I could just get X done, I'd get rid of this feeling."

So, here are some tactics for dealing with the feeling of being overwhelmed, of having too much to do, of being adrift, or feeling oppressed – all feelings that come upon us when things stack up.


1. Make a list. It can serve as a "memory dump", so you don't feel that you have to carry all those things around in your brain. Really think about EVERYTHING that is in your mind to do. Now, cross out the things that you're realistically never going to do, the things that don't matter any more, and the things that are really someone else's job. Look at the list and choose a few things that you can do right now, that you can then cross off the list. Continue to winnow the list by committing to doing a few things from it every day, and by continuing to evaluate whether some jobs really need to be on your list at all.

2. Whenever you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, or wondering what the next chore is, look around you. Choose one room, take a deep breath, and really look. Are there tasks there that have been waiting for you? I'm not talking about painting the ceiling or renovating your office. Look for those small tasks that never seem to make it onto your list, but nevertheless weigh on your mind as needing to be done – the ones that get shunted aside because there's always a larger job. A small pile of papers to be sorted? An article to be read so a magazine can be disposed of? Email to be processed? (You know the ones. You skim over them every time you're dealing with your email, telling yourself "I don't have time right now, I'll come back to it.") Take whatever time you can (15 minutes? Half an hour?) and just do a few of those jobs.

3. Examine your motives. How much of what's hanging over your head is there because you think you "ought to" do it, or because someone else wants you to, or because you once wanted to do it (or thought it needed doing) but that time has passed. (When my kids were small, I often kept clothes that needed mending until the child outgrew them. Why did I bother? I knew I wasn't going to do the mending…) Clear from your list, and your mind, any jobs that are not current, relevant, and important to you! Doing this, you can shorten your list and feel better without having actually done any chores. Cool, eh?

Not every tactic will work for everyone. Some people feel MORE oppressed by lists, not less. Some will be unable to mentally clear items from their to-do lists. The important thing here is to ACT. Make the commitment that whatever task you examine, you will either DO IT or remove it from the mental and physical list of to-do's.

And one more thing – Make sure to acknowledge to yourself what you've accomplished. The trouble with doing a bunch of small jobs is that you don't often get that great feeling of satisfaction of a task completed, and there's not a great visual impact in your space. Tell yourself that, in spite of the apparent lack of evidence, you've done something good! And plan to do it again soon.


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