Is Your To-Do List Taking Over Your Life? 6 Steps to A Cure

By Co-Executive Director rorie kelly
Jun 28, 2017 · 4 min read
My cat, Mama, is very invested in teaching me better time management so I can spend more time petting her.

Indiepreneurs have a lot competing for our time and attention these days, and it can be easy to feel like you are drowning in an endless to do list with no escape. With limited hours in a day, how can we balance meeting our goals with maintaining our physical and mental health, and some semblance of a personal life as well? Here are 6 steps to get you back on track when you are feeling overwhelmed.

1. Get real about what you can and can't do. For many of us, when we realize we are really behind, our first impulse is to say "well I'll just have to work harder and catch up." For sanity purposes, I recommend doing the math on that statement. Get a list of all the things you hope to have done today and give a realistic estimate of how long each one will take. If you're anything like me, you may realize that you have scheduled many hours of tasks into a time window that is just too small. The solution is not to extend your work hours and burn yourself out--it's to take yourself in hand and acknowledge that you are one person who can't do All The Things every day and needs downtime as well. For your own good, it's time to begin cultivating a habit of scheduling less, not more, than you can do in a day. (It has to be less because there will always always always be unexpected things that come up, and it's better to leave room for them than panic when they inevitably happen.)

2. Start asking questions with intent to eliminate tasks from your list. The first question is "What would happen if I completely bailed on doing this?" If the answer is "that would cause me a big problem," definitely keep it on the list. If the answer is "nothing" or "I’d be relieved and have more free time!" then it may be worth crossing off the list. If the answer is somewhere in between, ask yourself some more questions like "Why do I feel I need to do this thing?" And "is doing this task making my life better, worse, or the same?" And "Am I doing this because I think it’s really worth doing, or because it just seems like something I ought to do?"

3. Identify what, if anything, really and truly has to be done today. That means "There will be consequences if I don't do it today," not "I would really like to catch up on this." If you have any tasks like that, put them at the top of your list right now.

4. Start asking new questions with an intent to prioritize the rest of your list. My go to questions are "How much do I want to do this or have this done?", "How fast is it?", "How easy is it?", "Will I enjoy doing it?" and "How urgent/time sensitive is this?" Caution: Don't spend forever on this practice. Ask once, answer once, move on. I like to assign a point value to my answers (for example, 5 for "I really want to have this done!" to 1 for "this is pretty unimportant to me but still needs to happen sometime"). Then I can just add them up and tackle the tasks with the highest score first. (Also, if I find myself giving a task all 1s and 2s, that makes me question whether it needs to be on my list at all.)

5. Write down what you do accomplish and review it at the end of the day. It's very easy to feel like we "got nothing done" if we finish a busy day and still have tasks we did not complete. One way to break that vicious "I can never do enough" thought cycle is to deliberately notice and appreciate what we have done. Write it down as you go, and as you're finishing up your day, take a few minutes to review it and sincerely congratulate yourself for what you got done. Over time this will also help you get a more realistic view of what can be done in a day, and keep you from beating yourself up too much when you're feeling overwhelmed.

6. Cut yourself off. It's important for your mental and physical health to get downtime, time with loved ones (including alone time with ourselves!), and enough sleep. Commit to going to bed at a certain time and to having some time for yourself before that bedtime. Do the math and create an end time to your workday that is early enough to get that sleep and that you-time. Make it a hard and fast rule. Ask family members and friends to hold you accountable. This is a habit that you will have to build--and if you're used to just "pushing through" most days of the week, it will take some time to get it right. Don't beat yourself up, just dust yourself off and try again each day.

What are your tips for balancing your goals with your health and personal life? I'd love to hear them in the comments.

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