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How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 1: 10 Steps To Tackling Your To Do List

Three Boxes of Strawberries

Three Boxes of Local Strawberries

These were kindly given to me by my mom yesterday,

but they’re now impatiently waiting for me to make jam with them.

Do you ever have one of those days where everything on your To Do list seems totally overwhelming? And overnight, it seems, those days turn into weeks. Even a month or two….

Well, here I am nearly three months after the move, and there are a LOT of things on my To Do list that have been there for a long time. I have a blogging to do list, as well: I have a list of literally a couple hundred ideas for articles, just waiting to be written.

But I am just one person. So as I add new things into my life, like the blog and local community-building, it’s important for me to stay organized, stop doing things that aren’t as important to me but keep doing things that are important to me, and continue to run through my To Do list.

Strawberries on Tray

The Strawberries 10 minutes later, laid on a cookie sheet to be frozen.

I decided to freeze the berries and wait make jam when I have more time.

How I Tackle My To Do List….

And Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed

The number one priority is to not become overwhelmed. When I follow the list below, I feel happier as I continue to get things done.

1. Keep putting things on the list. Just because your list is long, doesn’t mean you should stop putting important things on the list. Having them in your head, where you’re trying to remember them on top of trying to get everything done at once – that’s a surefire way of becoming overwhelmed.

2. Prioritize. Give things a priority: Low, Medium and High should be good enough. High priorities for me tend to be the most imminent ones, the ones relating to work (losing a job would cause more problems), and the ones that relate to close friends and family (ie, you don’t want to lose friends because you didn’t have time to do something important for them).

3. Knock off at least one High Priority per day. And two per weekend day. Do it first thing in the morning, before you get started on the rest of your day. Then you’ll relax a little more for the rest of the day, since it won’t be hanging over your head.

4. Keep the Medium and Low priority items in order. For instance, as you knock off one item, the next in line rolls up to be done. As you think of something new, it goes to the bottom of the list. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but the point is that you do not want one item to remain at the bottom of your Medium priorities for eternity. An alternative is to move Medium priorities up to High if they’ve been there more than 1 week.

5. Knock off at least one Medium and one Low priority per week. And if they’re quick ones, do one per day.

6. Don’t stop doing things that are pleasurable. If you’re stressed out and watching a movie lowers your stress level, go for it. But before you watch a movie, stop for five minutes and tackle one small thing on your list. Then check it off and enjoy the movie. You’ll feel better.

7. If life gets in the way for a day, that’s ok. (Notice the rhyme – always allow yourself rhymes!) Some days, things come up non-stop and you just don’t have the chance to get out from under the day-to-day. Don’t beat yourself up about it. But the next morning, make sure you get up and tackle a solid, good item on your To Do list – even if you have to do it as the birds are waking up the neighborhood. You’ll feel better! (And you’ll sleep well that night!)

8. Save time doing everyday things. Do you make pancakes a lot (hmm, I know a few of you who do)? Why not double the recipe one day, and refrigerate the second half for tomorrow’s cakes? Need something at the store? Can you wait until you go on your long grocery trip tomorrow, to consolidate your trips? And even better, when you go shopping tomorrow, why not go to the grocery store, hardware store, library, and any other upcoming errands – all at the same time? That will save you gas and time.

When we were kids, my sister and I we assigned to do the dishes. I’m not sure who thought of it, but we used to challenge each other with “speed dishes”: essentially, do the dishes as fast as you can, without breaking anything of course! Amazing how much faster you can get things done if you put your mind to it. In my adult life, I’ve certainly used this idea for Speed House Cleaning, and just tonight I did some Speed Dishes. My husband and I enact the “Get In, Get Out” rule before going into a store. The idea is to go in, go directly to what you need, pay for it, and get out. This is not always the best way to live your life, but in a crunch, it saves time to do important things on your list.

9. Keep your head clear. Caffeine is ok (and for some of us it’s essential), but don’t binge our you’ll end up with a caffeine low soon afterwards. Exercise helps many people keep their blood flowing and ideas fresh. Stay Healthy (see #10). Breathe fresh air (outside, if it’s fresh, or artificially with a HEPA filter). Make sure you step outside for 20 minutes each morning, for your vitamin D (absorbed through your skin) and your circadian rhythms (stimulated by UV light).

10. Stay Healthy. Eat well and exercise. Don’t forget to take your vitamins and any prescriptions you normally take. Wash your hands before eating. Eat at least 3 meals a day, with whole foods (not processed), in regular intervals. Drink lots of water and avoid sugar and preservatives. Sleep at least 6 hours a night.

What About More Long-Term Lists?

Everything I want to do does not go on a To Do list. For these items, I tackle them differently. Visit the next post in this series:  How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 2: Reaching Long-Term Goals.

What Do You Do When Your List Becomes Overwhelming?

Please share!!

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18 comments to How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 1: 10 Steps To Tackling Your To Do List

  • Good advice, Melinda. I do have a to do list. Many of them. Scattered across my deck, tucked in books, written on the white board. I suppose I should do a better job having just one list first. Thanks for the motivation.

  • TO DO LIST? what, and not be disorganised and frenzied??? What are ya – some kind of commie ? Talking that crazy talk!And I counted 11 steps, not 10

  • I don’t think we have ever really had a to do list for here at home. Jason is amazingly organized when it comes to that sort of thing so he doesn’t really need a list and I just have to spend so much time at work organizing and listing and then following those lists and then following up on the follow through on those lists then making more lists… *ahem* anyway… you get the idea… too many lists for me already. ‘Nuf said…

    Good advice though… for those who aren’t list-phobic… ;)

  • I’d add remember to laugh. This post tickles my funny bone because I’ve been working on re-prioritizing my “do” list. That’s another suggestion too I suppose. Take the time to regroup occasionally.

  • Hey, how did you start making in-depth To Do lists right around the same time I stopped? I seem to recall that when we were kids, I was the more organized one. I have definitely noticed the difference (more hectic weekends, slightly more stress) since I stopped writing it all down – I didn’t necessarily need the list to remind myself to do things, just to prioritize what gets done first. Thanks for the reminder to add some of my old ways back into my current world…

  • I definitely agree with the to-do-lists. They really help you prioritize and realize that some thing on your list really shouldn’t be there – that they can wait or really aren’t that important.

    One way I de-stress about my list – is ignoring it for one day and just enjoying some down time. The rest gives me energy to tackle what I need to do the next day.

  • Great post! I find a ‘to do’ list keeps me focused – I’m far more likely to get things done than if I don’t write a list.. Write it down, make it happen!

  • great tips, your strawberry pictures gave me flashbacks of the 4th of july weekend.

  • [...] Elements in Time has great tips for tackling the to do list. [...]

  • I might need to print this one out. GREAT guidelines. Most of it I have already implemented at one time or another but I forget and need reminding. So so smart!

  • If I look at the list and it looks very long and full of complex tasks and it’s feeling a bit overwhelming and impossible, I pick the quickest thing/s and get them out of the way just so that I’ve made a start. Paying the gas bill or emailing about my fruit & veg order takes up space on the list, but only takes a few minutes to remove from it. Then the list is smaller, and I’m feeling better, and I get on with the harder stuff. Or make another coffee.

  • [...] I wrote about Tackling Your To Do List (assuming some of you have one, Rob and Guyz). I personally need a To Do List, because I need to [...]

  • GB, That was me, too, until I discovered the Google List feature, where I can have my list right on my Google Homepage, with Low Med and High priorities assigned. There are a couple of different list managers available – one of them even lets you keep finished tasks on your list and cross them off – nice if you’re like Kate and need to feel you’ve accomplished tasks!

    ROB, Whoops, yeah – see how I need this reminder about lists? Numbering was off but fixed now. 10 it is.

    And …. um… there should maybe be a clinic for you and Shibaguyz and everyone with list-phobia? It sounds like you are just acting out because you have an inner list waiting to be loved. ; )

    SHIBAGUYZ, Um… ok… you can um not make lists… if that makes you feel better…

    DEB G, Good point – definitely regrouping is important!

    LORI, Actually I’ve always made lists, but I’ve been more like Green Bean in the past – guess it was that darn husband of mine, being a good influence!!

    SUZYQ, Great idea – I do think it’s important to have down time where you allow yourself to forget about the list and all you have to do. Sometimes it’s not a whole day for me, but just a nice walk or a good dinner with my husband, or an hour or two with a good book.

    DIANA, That’s exactly what my husband says, “write it down, make it happen” – wow!

    KORY, I so hoped to go pick strawberries this year!! Since blueberry season has just started, maybe we’ll do that instead. I love the cutting board – looks like a slaughter occurred!

    ANGELINA, Aw shucks – I’m glad it might help!

    KATE, I do that, too. I read on someone’s blog once that they sometimes put things on the list that are really quick, just so they can cross them off! And yes… coffee…

  • Good advice, Melinda, but it doesn’t work when your head’s spinning. Being dizzy for the past week has resulted in a huge decline in productivity. I’m afraid to keep adding to the list because it just depresses me that I can’t do much right now!

    (Yes, seeing a doctor on Tuesday.)

    Oh, on the plus side, coffee has not appealed ONE BIT since this started so I’ve essentially quit cold turkey. I tried to have a cup the other day and had to reheat it 3 times because I didn’t really want it.

  • CHILE!! Yikes – I’m glad you’re going to the doctor. I’ve known a few people who have had cases of vertigo – hopefully it’s just that!

    Congratulations on kicking your coffee addiction. I have never been able to quit completely – I rely on it to help stimulate my brain.


  • I also find having ” Have Done ” list is encouraging, like books allow margins and be gentle with oneself in that in all reality maybe only get 70 % done in time allotted.

  • Great point, Bonnie – thanks!

  • [...] care of (laundry, cleaning, and organizing), and work projects to finish up.  So I’m not going to get overwhelmed, I’m going to take one step at a time, and I’m going to get it [...]

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