I fall into this trap all too often: I have a lot on my to-do list, but I get so overwhelmed by it that I don't accomplish anything. If you're anything like me (and if you aren't, then a big round of applause to you), you have days when nothing gets done precisely because you had so much to do.
It's not that you don't want to accomplish the tasks you set out to do, it's just that you can't seem to get moving. The length of the list is overwhelming the motivation you've built up.
This can happen with anything: work, hobbies, laundry, dishes, television shows, etc. It's like this: you know you have a lot to do, it's probably been on your mind all day, but when it comes down to the time to get it done, you find yourself sitting on the couch stuffing your face with chips instead of doing what you planned. And here's the worst part: you know in your head that if you could just get off your butt and work, you would feel less overwhelmed, but you JUST CAN'T DO IT.
Just this week, I was thinking over all the projects I have on my schedule and the extra things I'd like to complete for my business (vacation can sure make things pile up), when I hit a wall. Not literally (although that's been known to happen), but in my mind. I had so much to do that I stagnated and did nothing instead.
I've learned something, though. My to-do list is never as overwhelming as I let myself believe. The problem comes when I start thinking about all of the BIG tasks that need accomplished instead of focusing on the small steps to get there. Here's how I get over the overwhelm and actually get things done:
- Write It Down: When you make a list of the things you need to accomplish in the next day (or week or month), you get a better idea of what needs to be done. You'll probably find that you're building it up in your head until these things seem insurmountable, when really you just need to take them one by one.
- Prioritize It: Some things actually need to get done right away, but the majority can wait a day or two. Go through your to-do list and mark the items that need to be done first.
- Break It Up: Big, long-term tasks seem especially overwhelming sitting on your to-do list. Instead of procrastinating because you don't have time to do it all at once, break the task up into smaller chunks and schedule them when they make sense.
- Schedule It: Once you know what has to be done and when it needs to be done by, you can start planning. Sit down and write out a schedule. This can be broken up by the day or by exact times.
- Make It Routine: We all have tasks that have to be (or should be) done every day. Start a routine for those things. Do them in the same order, at the same time each day so that you know exactly what to expect.
- Cross It Off: I don't know about you, but this is my favorite step. (Confession: I'll add things to my to-do list that I've already done, just so that I can check them off.) By crossing out (or checking off) tasks that you've finished, you'll get a sense of accomplishment and you'll start to feel less overwhelmed as you see the list dwindle.
Remember, the overwhelm that you're feeling is all in your head. Yes, you're busy, but you really have more time than you think. And you'll always make time for the things that are most important to you (like your family or the latest episode of Scandal).