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Got a to-do list as long as your arm?

Dread getting up because you just have too much to do?
Can barely find time to do what you need to do because of things you need to do for other people?
Got so much to do you just don’t know where to start… so you sit watching TV while the list grows?

Yep… I’ve been there.

So overwhelmed by the ever-growing list of things that need doing, that you end up doing nothing, or you start something, only to be distracted by another thing, which means you end up overwhelmed by all the unfinished projects you have going on…

It can feel like a downward spiral

There’s only so much one person can do… There are plenty of people spouting off about productivity hacks, and how we all have the same 24 hours a day, it’s just how we use it, but when you’re feeling like you’re hopelessly stuck at the bottom of a pit of despair, you don’t really care about everyone’s 24 hours… you just want to get through your next 24 hours. 

It’s time to disrupt the cycle

This doesn’t involve Tony Robbins style standing up, jumping around, screaming and shouting with your fists pumping… if you’re anything like me, that just looks crazy, and something I’d rather not do.

Also, it doesn’t mean running around like a hyperactive squirrel on energy drinks until you collapse in a heap either in tears or asleep.

You don’t even have to get any of those jobs done right now

You need two high-tech pieces of equipment

Pen and Paper.

OK, so I lied, they’re not high tech, but they are the key to breaking down that overwhelming feeling you have right now.

I want you to write down everything that you need to do.  And I mean, EVERYTHING. whether it’s big (that project that’s due) or small (buy milk)

Write the mother of all to-do lists (Brain dump)

It’s tempting to limit the number of tasks you have on your list, don’t.  Just keep writing.  Start with the obvious things that are at the forefront of your mind, then keep writing until you completely run out of things you need to do.  Usually, as you’re writing you’ll think of other things that are either related, or you simply forgot because you were so busy thinking of the other/newer things.

Let yourself off the hook

By now you’ll have a huge list.  You’re not going to get this all done in one day, maybe not even a week, possibly even a month. That’s totally OK.  You need to be at ease with it.

How are you feeling right now?  When you’re looking at the huge list, probably still overwhelmed, but how is your mind?  Calmer? Quieter? Better?  That’s what we want.

You’re not going to do everything on the list

Just because it’s on the list, it doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. “But it’s on my list, I have to do it.  HAVE to do it, I tell ya!!”

No, you really don’t.  And you’re not gonna.

Who’s list is this really?

Scan over the list, you’ll notice that some of these things are your own responsibilities.  There will be things on there that you have to do (pay bills), things that you should do (exercise), want to do (watch that new film) and I can pretty much guarantee that the things you should and want to do have been on that list a while, usually moving down because you never get round to it.

The things that shift want and should down the list, are usually obligations… things that have landed on your list thanks to someone else.  Things you don’t really want to do that have no actual impact on your own life/wellbeing.  They’re things you’ve been lumped with because you’re there, capable, available, have done it before, can’t say No to someone who asks nicely, won’t say No to someone who tells you to get it done (because they don’t want to).

Start by reducing the list

Obligatory events that you really don’t want to go to

Cancel them.  Call/email/message whoever it is you need to and cancel.

“Hi, I know it’s the party on Friday for the cats birthday, and I know this is short notice, thank you so much for the invitation but I can’t make it.  I know it’s something everyone’s looking forward to, and I’m sure it will be a great night, have a lovely time!”

Don’t say “Sorry” because then they’ll be disappointed.  They’ll be disappointed with you for letting them down (why wouldn’t you be going to their cats birthday party?!) but THANK them for the invite.  Leave them with well-wishes for a great night.  They’ll feel better about the whole thing because they’ll be happy you’re thinking of their happiness.

If you want to, add “I look forward to hearing about it next week” IF you actually look forward to hearing about it.

Not saying sorry may take some practice, and they might still get a bit upset about you not going, but that’s their problem, not yours. They’ll get over it.

Things you want to do, but don’t have time/energy for

“Hey! I know we said we’d go out for lunch on Saturday, but I can’t make it.  Can we arrange it for {insert suitable date} instead?”

Offering a re-arranged date shows them you actually want to meet for lunch, it’s just not a good time right now.  Things come up, it happens to everyone.  Again, you don’t need to apologise or tell them exactly what’s going on. “I’m completely swamped, and I want to enjoy our night out without being distracted by this other stuff”

Make it work for everyone involved so you can have the best time.

Stuff that just doesn’t belong to you; ‘favours’ and other obligations

These are the random jobs that you wouldn’t be doing unless someone has specifically asked you to; namely “favours”.  These are things that are asked of you in such a way that you instinctively say yes because it doesn’t seem like a big thing at the time.

“If you’re passing, could you pick up the dry cleaning?’ Yeah, sure

“Would you mind picking up my kids from school, I have an appointment at the hairdressers”

“If (or more annoyingly) While you’re not busy, could you nip to town and pick up a parcel”

If this is something you can EASILY do, and you have the availability to get it done without too much hassle, then there’s no problem just getting it done this time, but work out whether or not you should be saying yes next time.  There’s no harm in saying no. 

I there’s something that you’ve been lumped with that’s become an expectation or obligation (ie you did something a couple of times, and now people assume you’re going to do it all the time) and it no longer works for you, you need to make it clear.  Put a shout out to others involved asking them if they can do it this week as you’re swamped.  Organise with others a way to split the load so it works for everyone. If you’re expected to be somewhere on a certain day/time, let them know in advance that you can’t make it that day (like above where you cancel/rearrange) 

Block and Tackle

Now you’ve trimmed your list, you have a better idea of the things you need to get done, so ‘block’ them together, putting like tasks into groups.  Then you can work out what’s involved and how long it will take (estimate if you’re not sure) then start scheduling them on the calendar

Work out what you need to do 

Sometimes we have big tasks on our lists, that require smaller tasks to get it done.  Yes, this is going to make your list appear longer, but it’s best to work out the steps needed to get the job done.

e.g.  “Paint the stairs and landing” can be broken down into smaller tasks;

  • Strip the wallpaper

  • Sand and wash the walls

  • Buy the paint & brushes

  • Mask the edges

  • Paint

Now you don’t have to write every single step, but being aware of what you’re going to need to gather from around the house, and what you’re going to have to buy will save you some jobs in the long run.  You don’t want to get half way through a job and realise you’ve got something missing.  So make sure you have a list of everything you need, and then make sure whether you have it or not before you go shopping.

Do this for all the bigger jobs you have on your list!  Work out how much it’s going to cost too if need be.

Block your tasks

This is how you get things done fast.

Do you have lots of errands on your list?  Try and fit them into one day.  Can you move appointments if needed, or fit things in around them if you need to go out for things.

Do you have calls to make?  Block half a day, or full day, as long as you need into the calendar for them.

Block out quiet time to focus on intensive tasks

Is it going to cost you more than you have? 

Do you need to earn/find some extra cash to get everything you need?

Have a money date.  Figure out what you’ve got coming in, how much you’ve got going out and how much you need to get things done.  Does it all need to be done in one go?

How can you earn the extra cash?

Take on more work? Become BFFs with Ebay for the weekend? Figure it out, and block in time to get it done.

Get it on the calendar

Now you’ve got a rough idea of what you need to do, and how long each of these tasks will take. Get them on the calendar, this can be written in a paper planner, or backed into your digital calendar, whichever works best for you.  

Have a rough idea of the best order you need to do everything in.

Make sure you allocate enough time, and leave a buffer (‘wiggle room’) in case something crops up and needs ends up taking longer.

You can always move things forward if you finish a job early, it’s more difficult to move things back.  And having a little extra room for breaks, or new tasks makes life a little less stressful.

Get started – TACKLE

Now you’ve got your lists made, and your time blocked, it’s time to get moving!

By now you’ve handed off the things that don’t belong to you, rearranged what needed to be, and organised what’s left on your list to make your time more manageable.  Now you can start to work through the list as it is and get stuff crossed off pretty quickly.


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