- Emma Nuttall
How to wipe out your to-do list
Updated: 4 days ago
Reduce stress and overwhelm by setting daily intentions
Do you often find yourself reacting to your day as opposed to feeling in control?
Do you list all the tasks you need to accomplish on a to-do list but barely make a dent?
Does your to-do list feel like an epic list of never-ending chores that, instead of making you feel organised and ready to conquer your goals, leaves you stressed and overwhelmed?
If you've answered 'yes' to any of these questions, you're definitely not alone! So many of us are struggling with the work-life-family-household juggle. Managing to get everything done often feels like an impossible task.
This can be further complicated if you're prone to procrastination.
What is procrastination (and what are some examples)?
Procrastination is the urge to do anything other than the task you are resisting. It often occurs when you need to complete a complex, yet significant project. Engaging in too much research (otherwise known as surfing the internet), scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix, are common ways many of us procrastinate.
Why do I procrastinate?
Your impossibly long to-do list feels insurmountable. Feelings of stress and overwhelm are uncomfortable, so you procrastinate to avoid the discomfort.
Continuing to procrastinate can cause the guilt and self-criticism cycle to kick in. However, thoughts of "Why am I so useless?" and "I always fall short", only succeed in further reducing your motivation.
How do I break the procrastination cycle?
The good news is that I'm a bit of an expert in this area!
Here are five simple steps you can follow to whittle down your to-do list, shake off the overwhelm and get out of your own way.
1. Set your priorities
Let's start with what your to-do list isn't for.
Your to-do list is not a brain dump list. It's not a long-term goal list and it's not the place for writing down everyday mundane chores.
Sure it's important to have records of some of these things but the key is to keep them separate.
Go through your list and either convert the brain dump items into actions that you will follow through with, or remove them altogether. Same goes for your long-term dreams and aspirations. Dreams are important so be sure to record them in a journal or somewhere significant but they don't belong on your daily to-do list.
Now it's time to declutter your to-do list Marie Kondo style!
How to prune your to-do list
Once you have removed any vague ideas, long-term goals and mundane chores, grab a blank piece of paper, draw three columns and write the following three words in the columns.
Delegate. Delete. Delay.
Cast your eye over your to-do list and consider if any of the tasks can be moved off the list and into one of the columns on this page.
i. Delegate – are there any tasks you can delegate to other people in your home or office? I know it often feels easier to just ‘do it yourself’ but if there are other people around you, give them a shot. Aim for progress, not perfection.
Part of delegating is being ok with asking for help. It's ok to ask for help from time to time. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You really don’t.
Or if there is no one you can ask, are there any tasks you can outsource (if budget permits)?
ii. Delete - consider if there is anything on your list you can delete altogether. This is a good time to take a quick peek at your long-term goals. Is there anything on your to-do list that is not really worth completing because it wont get you any closer to your goals?
iii. Delay - what tasks need to be completed eventually but, right now, can wait? Can you postpone them until tomorrow (or a future date) and commit to putting them out of your mind until then, so as to not let them cause you stress?
Once you have completed this process, your to-do list should be looking a little less overwhelming!
The next step is to get some of the stress and overwhelm under control.
2. Self-regulate to reduce stress and increase productivity
What do I mean by self-regulate?
Self-regulation refers to how well you are able to understand and manage your thoughts and emotions in the pursuit of goals. It also involves knowing how to calm your nervous system after your stress response is triggered.
When you are stressed or overwhelmed, you are often disconnected from your body and unaware of your habitual behaviour. Someone who is good at self-regulation on the other hand, can recognise when they are in a state of fight-or-flight and therefore tap into their parasympathetic nervous system to restore a sense of calm and balance.
Simple practices that activate your parasympathetic nervous system include deep belly breathing, mindfulness activities and walking in nature. Research has also shown that in addition to reducing the levels of stress hormones your body, mindfulness meditation and breath work can also increase your focus and clarity. Ultimately self-regulation reduces your stress response and increases your productivity.
Grab my free mindfulness of breathing meditation.
4. How to set daily intentions
Take a couple of minutes first thing each morning to choose 2-3 tasks on your to-do list and set an intention to achieve them by the end of the day.
Sure, you may have 10+ additional tasks that need to be completed as part of your regular day but your intention list should involve priority tasks that are non-negotiables. This helps you to zero in on the areas where you need to focus most of your energy.
Here is a snapshot of my intention list for today;
cardio and weights session at the gym (45 mins)
finish first draft of article (2.5 hours)
review client files before today's consults (1.5 hours)
A simple daily planner can help with this task. I personally like daily planners with tear off sheets so I can set fresh intentions each morning.
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5. Take action
A goal remains a goal if you don’t take action. Setting an intention and scheduling time to focus on a priority task, encourages you to get out of your head (or out of bed) and get started. It can therefore be helpful to estimate how much time each of the three priority tasks will take and schedule time in your diary to complete them.
Unscheduled events will crop up from time to time that you must attend to. This is an inevitable part of life, just don’t let it derail you.
Following these steps will not only help you to gradually whittle down your to-do list. You can increase your focus and productivity and ultimately, ensure you stay on track with your goals.
Reclaiming your time so you can focus on the things that matter, is one of the modules in my behaviour change course, You Don't Need More Willpower'.
If you'd like to learn research-based steps to overcome resistance, stay motivated and achieve your wellness goals then you should definitely check it out!