057: Conquering the Chaos of An Overwhelming To-Do List
Do you ever have a week where you feel like you have so many things to do that you possibly can’t get them all done? Or maybe you’re in a season like that where you find it difficult to create a regular schedule because you just have too many things to do.
I know for me, August has always been a more chaotic month. Especially the last 7 years as my kids have had to go to band camp a few weeks before school starts. That makes the whole month of August super busy as band camp is going on, we’re getting ready for school to start, and then getting into the groove of the new school year.
This year has been no exception. My daughter started her senior year in high school last week. And earlier this week I had to move my son back to college by myself. He is starting a week later than last year. So since my husband is out of town on a work trip and my daughter is already in school, I was the only one available to help him move in.
In the midst of all of this, my to-do list has exploded. And not just with things I needed to do to get my kids ready to go back to school.
I am working on some fun things with The Planning Woman, and I always have this podcast to prepare for as well as writing the blog posts that go with it. I’m also trying to be more active on social media with The Planning Woman. Generally, I just have a lot of projects going on.
Then there is the work I need to do around my house. Now that the kids are back in school, I need to make sure their rooms are situated, especially my son’s. And I need to do a deep clean in the house since we’re all getting back to our normal routines.
This week, in particular, has been especially challenging and stressful. On my schedule for this week was working at my outside the home job at church on Monday, taking my son to college on Tuesday, a church meeting on Wednesday night, and leaving for a short trip with my husband on Thursday night coming back on Monday.
I have only had Wednesday and part of Thursday to tackle a to-do list with 23 items on it. And most of those tasks were not simple ones that could be done in 15 minutes or less. They were tasks that would take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to complete.
So needless to say I was very overwhelmed before the week even began. I knew I could not follow my normal routines and do everything I felt like I needed to do. I had to do something different if I wanted to ensure the important tasks got done.
If you’ve ever been in a busy season like this, then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
Here are a few steps you can take to help you get things done when your to-do list becomes overwhelming.
Do what you can ahead of your busy week
I knew several weeks ago that this week would be super busy with appointments and commitments that would limit how much time I had to work on my to-do list. I also knew what projects and tasks I wanted to do by the end of this week. This list has been on my mind for a while.
So, the first thing I should have done to make things less overwhelming was to try to get more done before the week started. There were several things on my to-do list with due dates of this week. I could have used my time better in past weeks to complete some of these tasks. Then they would not have ended up on this week’s list as must do’s because they were due this week.
I would encourage you to always make good use of your time. Look ahead on your calendar and see what’s coming up so you can make a plan to get things done ahead of time if possible. Planning ahead allows you the freedom and flexibility to get things done before life becomes stressful.
Brain dump and write down all the things you think need to be done.
This step helped me so much because it helped me to see all that I needed to do before I left on my trip with my husband. But it also let me see how much there was to do. Yes, it is overwhelming to see everything written out sometimes. However, there are a couple of benefits to the brain dump.
Number 1, it does release some of the burdens you may be feeling because you’ve been able to get all of the things swirling around in your head out and onto paper. And number 2, you don’t have to worry about remembering all your to-do’s anymore.
Prioritize your list
Prioritize your list to make sure you get the most important things done and reduce your stress.
What I did was to look at my list and evaluate each task and project on there. I determined the things that I absolutely had to do before I left on my trip. I went through and highlighted each of those tasks and projects.
After thinking through everything I was able to pare down my list somewhat. Yes, it was still long and had several tasks that would take a while to complete. But it felt more manageable.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to prioritize your list. Because everything seems urgent and like it needs to be done now, you’ve got to be realistic and pick out only the most important things that need to be done.
Make a plan
This is where time blocking can come in handy. Go to this episode of Live It Out With The Planning Woman to learn more about time blocking.
However, if your week is anything like mine has been, time blocking may not be the most effective way to go. I know I know! I’m a big believer in time blocking, but if you’re in a crunch trying to get a lot of tasks done, you may need to do something different. Let me explain and I think you’ll see why time blocking may not be the best thing to do.
On my calendar, I had a few appointments and commitments for the week. So I did what I’d call a modified version of time blocking. Usually, when I block out my time, I do it for the entire week. This week, I just took an index card and made out a rough schedule for Wednesday on Wednesday morning. Then I did the same on Thursday once I knew what I had left to do.
I basically just gave myself a set amount of time that I thought would be sufficient for each task or project. The key was that I also built in some buffer or flex-time to help me catch up on what I didn’t finish or to move on to other to-do’s.
It was helpful to know I had that buffer time where I could catch up if needed. It definitely helped me to be less stressed about moving through my day.
Follow your energy levels
I identified the two most important and time-consuming tasks I had to do before I went on my trip. Even though they required a lot of brainpower, I scheduled them first on my list for Wednesday. I knew I would have the most energy then and would feel so much better if I made significant progress on both of them before noon.
Likewise, I scheduled my flex or buffer time for mid-afternoon knowing my energy lags then but it would be a great time to tie up loose ends on my morning tasks or to tackle some other item on my to-do list that didn’t require much thought.
So my advice to you would be to schedule your tasks and projects in accordance with your energy levels. Figure out when you are most alert and energetic and schedule the more difficult tasks then. Save tasks that require little thought to times when your energy is lower.
Be prepared for distractions
When I was moving my son into his new apartment at college, I got a text message with news I was not expecting to hear. I’m not going to go into detail about the text. Let’s just say it was something very disappointing and just added to my stress levels that day. In fact, it kept me so distracted that I really couldn’t enjoy what little time I had left with my son that day.
I share this with you because no matter how well you plan, distractions are going to happen, both positive and negative. They can cause you to lose focus, momentum, and motivation. So you’ve got to prepare as best as you can.
The way I’ve been dealing with this is just by turning it over to God. This situation is not something I can fix on my own. And it’s going to take the grace of God to see me through with the right attitude. So I’m trying my best to leave the situation up to Him and see how it goes.
I’ll admit that’s hard for me because I’m a control freak and I want everything resolved with no conflict hanging over anyone. I’m not in a position to control this situation. So I look at it as I have two choices. I can either worry or fret over something I can’t control. Or I can give it got God and pray for the best outcome.