Overcome Overwhelm: The Magic To-Do List

Magic Tips To Overcome Overwhelm

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed as you go about your work each day, there’s a good chance you’re aiming for a perfect state, a goal of ‘having everything done’.

This is a mythical state that can never exist in real life.

Unless you’re a hermit who has eschewed modern life, the reality is that you will never have everything done. There’ll always be more things to do, emails to answer, articles to read, software to upgrade, clutter to clear, etc.

It’s part of the entropy of life that we have to keep working in order to maintain order. You’ll probably lower your stress level immediately just by accepting this reality and not expecting life to be different.

But the fact that you’ll never have everything crossed off your task list doesn’t mean you have to feel overwhelmed.

The answer to overcoming overwhelm is not to rush madly through each day, trying to check as many items off your to-do list as you can.

The answer is to re-think what goes on your to-do list in the first place.

Now this is pretty radical. What I’m going to suggest you do to your to-do list can so increase your productivity and so reduce your overwhelm, as to feel almost magical.

The Magical To-Do List That Overcomes Overwhelm

Here’s how you create your daily to-do list.

1. Each day, choose your 3 most important tasks.

That’s right – only 3.

They could be anything – spending time with your kids, drafting the newsletter, making a call you’ve been putting off, outlining a proposal, asking your boss for a promotion, leaving work on time and going to the gym, getting your hair cut so you feel confident, etc.

But they must be the 3 tasks that contribute most to your top priorities.

For instance, my list for today is:

  1. Write a blog post – this one! (contributes to my goal of providing good, regular content)
  2. Finish making notes on two of the research books I’m using for a new product I’m working on (contributes to my goal of creating new products)
  3. Do an exercise class (contributes to my goal of working out 5 or 6 times each week).

Doesn’t matter how long a task has been on your list – if it’s not in the top 3 things you can do today to move forward on your goals, it doesn’t get on today’s list.

2. Do these tasks first.

You might have meetings, kiddie drop-offs, or other non-discretionary ways you have to spend your time each day, but when you get to choose what to do, choose one of the 3 items on your list. Then choose the next one, and the next.

Only do additional tasks if you complete your top 3.

Increase Productivity, Boost Confidence, Reduce Overwhelm

This approach will transform your work day and your life.

  • By letting your top goals and priorities direct the way you spend your time, you’ll make the best use of your motivation, energy and passion, and this will increase your productivity.
  • By getting the most important things done each and every day, you’ll also build a sense of self-mastery and achievement, and you’ll feel more confident.
  • And by keeping your focus on those top 3 tasks, you’ll feel more in control and avoid overwhelm, burnout and stress.

Over time, you’ll get more done this way, and enjoy yourself more.

Try it – and let me know how it works for you!

Michele | Get Organized Gal

Michele is into writing, books, simplicity, love, TV, productivity, and staying thin in a world of chocolate.

18 thoughts on “Overcome Overwhelm: The Magic To-Do List

  1. Alina Joy Dubois says:

    I LOVED this article… and apparently really need to read it because I just finished writing a to-do list that was way too long at 75 items! I thought I would be able to do it all in one day and I’ve spent 2 days chipping away at it and have now finished less than 10% of my list! So I linked to you from my blog! Hope you don’t mind! (Click on over for proof that I really do have a 75 item to-do list! But now it’s a “to-do-before-Thanksgiving list” instead of a “to-do-today” list! Thanks for letting me give myself a break! =)
    http://www.goodolddaysfarm.com/2011/10/2-much-2-do-2-be-perfect/

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  3. Deb says:

    Just spent about 1 hour cleaning and tidying my daughter’s room which had stuff everywhere, on the floor etc. Bought little containers to make “homes” for her bits and pieces eg all her electronic games went into a little container. So, she now knows where to put specific items.

    This room had been getting us both down and it was great to have it decluttered- we both feel more organized having it done. Just a little step but on the way to achieving a sense of a tidy organized house/office & ultimately mind!

    Thanks Michele!

  4. Alan says:

    Okay. I guess I’m still a little confused about choosing which things make the biggest difference to your priorities, using this same example, spending quality time with the kids is probably more important than making sure their room is perfectly clean but if you always do these first when will you get around to the other things you should do like cleaning, etc. This is just an example that can be applied to work, school, etc.

  5. Michele Connolly says:

    @Alan: You probably know the usual size of tasks on your to-do list, but if you’re looking for a rule of thumb, you could choose tasks that you think might take about an hour to complete. So to use your example, if you’re cleaning the house, you might choose the three hours of cleaning that would make the biggest difference – perhaps decluttering the living area, tidying the kids’ closets and clearing the kitchen benches. Focus on the things that will make the BIGGEST DIFFERENCE to your goals and priorities and DO THESE FIRST. Good luck! 🙂

  6. Alan says:

    Interesting. Where I get confused is the actual task has like 8 parts to it. For example, cleaning the house. You may say it’s too big of a task to do in one day but it is possible. And if it is too big, maybe you’ll say you should narrow your task to smaller things, say just clean one bedroom. But then that can be big too because what if you have a lot of papers to organize on your desk. You can use that similar example of big and small tasks for many things for work, etc.

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  8. Andrea K says:

    You know I have been feeling very overwhelmed and depressed lately and even loosing any enthusiasm to try anymore. But this has caught my eye and made me rethink that feeling. It gives me something “new” to try and re-spark some of that enthusiasm… wish me luck, I need it right now.

  9. Michele Connolly says:

    @Jan: Please don’t let that feeling of defeat last another day! If it helps, write your 3 things for the day on a post-it and take it EVERYWHERE with you until the 3 things are done. Please let me know how it goes. M 🙂

  10. Jan Gray says:

    Thank you for this insight and advice! I am always overwhelmed, and feel defeated even before I start, so end up not getting much done. I will apply this.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I’m definitely going to try this. I’m always writing unrealistic to-do lists and you’re quite right, it’s depressing when very little gets crossed off. Your approach sounds loads more sensible – and achievable. And I look forward to being a whole lot more productive too. Thank you for the inspiration and pointing the way!
    Yours disorganisedly (but not for much longer I hope!)
    Stephanie

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