How To Cope When Your Never-ending To Do list Becomes Overwhelming
Modern life means that for many of us we are juggling numerous demands at work, home or both. How we respond to these demands can vary from person to person and according to individual situations, other life events and the support available. What is clear though is that continuing effort to fulfil endless tasks on an ongoing basis can become unsustainable, leading to anxiety, overwhelm and burnout. This has a negative impact on the wellbeing of a person and can also reduce the amount and quality of tasks completed.
While it may not always be possible to change the demands on you, there may be steps you can take to manage how you respond to and deal with these demands and the impact they have on you. In doing so you can feel more in control of the situation, manage things more effectively and improve your overall wellbeing.
Here are some ideas for how to cope when the overwhelm becomes too much.
Write a to do list
Writing a to do list means you have everything written down in one place and helps to stop thoughts about what you need to do from racing around in your head. Include everything that needs to be done but importantly consider the following when writing your list.
Ensure your list is realistic and achievable
Make a list of everything that needs doing, then distinguish between items on the list in terms of importance. Look at what needs prioritising and what can wait until later. Make sure that you have a realistic idea of the time you have and what can be achieved in that time and plan accordingly. If an item seems particularly onerous overwhelming, break it down into smaller chunks then plan time to complete each one. Keeping realistic expectations of what can be done and not attempting to complete everything on the list in one day can help avoid feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.
Accept that a list may not be completed
While lists can be great organisational tools, as mentioned above, an acceptance that a list may not be completed is important in order to avoid feelings of failure. Viewing the list as a work in progress, an ongoing document that items can be both added to or ticked off from could help with this. Highlighters or other markers can help to distinguish items of different importance.
Focus on one thing at a time
After identifying items to prioritise and planning how many of these can realistically be completed, try to focus on one thing at a time. This is likely to bring more success in completing tasks rather than switching between different things. However, be prepared to be flexible if unexpected tasks crop up that need to take priority or if a task unexpectedly takes longer than it should. Remember in these situations not to be hard on yourself - you are still being productive and getting things done, just not as originally planned. Reassign it to the list with an adapted plan and recognise what you have achieved rather than not.
You may not have to do this on your own
Consider your situation for any given task. Is it something you can ask for help or support with? Are you someone who always says 'yes' - are there times when you could say 'no' to something? Are there times you could delegate to others? Of course, this may not always be possible or desirable, but even the occasional time could make a difference.
Manage your time and plan breaks
Plan your time out so you have a realistic idea of how to fit things in but remember to be flexible and adaptable if things change throughout the day. Remember to plan breaks. Although this takes time out from getting things done, it is an important part of self care and can help lead to more productive and focused work.
Self care and boundaries
Look at ways of introducing some self care into your routine. Whether this be breathing and relaxation, exercise, doing something you enjoy, spending time with friends, meditation or just relaxing with a book or TV show. Or a combination!
Re-evaluate how you spend time both when you are working or completing tasks and when you're not. Are you able to create some separation between the two and switch off or do you find yourself still checking emails or finishing off that bit of cleaning? Of course there are things that you have to do at times, but try to reflect on whether these things always have to be done right then or whether you can have that bit of time off to refresh and revive yourself.
Make a list
Say 'no' sometimes
Recognise what you have
done and appreciate yourself!
Make time for self-care
Ask for help
Plan your time and prioritise
These are just some ideas to consider if you are feeling overwhelmed with all you have to do and of course not everything applies or is possible in all situations. It's about finding ways that work for you. Making achievable and realistic plans and breaking things down can make them feel less overwhelming and give a sense of control back, as well as satisfaction when completing things. Remembering that you are just one person and that there is always a limit to what any person can do is important, as well as remembering to appreciate the things you do rather than always focusing on the things that don't get done.
Making some time for things you enjoy and want to do rather than the things you have to do is good for your overall wellbeing and could actually result in more productive, focused time spent on tasks that have to be done. Turning the negative feelings of panic and overwhelm into positive, practical ways to get things done could be a real help. Last, but definitely not least, remember you are a person and no matter how much is expected of you, your health and happiness are important too.