Lifehacker Tip #2 – Lists help fight overwhelm

Time to get your to-do on! Img via Etsy, click to go there}

Oops I did it again.

I thought I was a reformed over-committer but yesterday I slipped off the wagon.

Of course I blamed ProBlogger – when you go to a conference you can’t help but get overexcited about all the things you’ve learned and just want to implement them all immediately. My brain was in overdrive, zinging about all the things I could do for all my blogs, but at the same time reminding me I had a heap of other work related stuff to do in addition to stuff around the house. Stress started to build and by the end of that day I was vagueing out and walking around with a haunted expression on my face.

When I sat down to examine how I got there though, I learned two things:

  1. It wasn’t ProBlogger’s fault!
  2. Things weren’t as bad as I thought

But first: What is overwhelm?

We all know the feeling I am sure. It’s the one where life feels a bit out of control, where everything is rush rush rush, and where we feel like we’re not giving the best of ourselves to the tasks at hand. I don’t know about you, but it does my head in a little when I feel like everything I am doing is only getting half my attention because I am thinking about eight other things at the time!

Whenever things get like this, I fight back with a list.

  • Lists take away the pressure of having to remember 
  • Lists allow you to turn your brain off for a while
  • Lists make you feel like you are back in control of everything
  • Lists reduce overwhelm

Whether you actually back in control of everything is irrelevant, the simple fact that a list can shut down the brain chatter and reduce your stress levels is beyond invaluable.

So what’s the best way to go about it?

1. Write down EVERYTHING you have to do

And I mean everything. Yesterday I basically word vomited on a page – I wrote down things like ‘call plumber’ and ‘de-frost meat for dinner’ and ‘meet Kaz and Kate for lunch’ in addition to all my work related items.

2. Prioritise

I went through and wrote when I anticipated doing the item on my list. Then when I saw I had written “Wednesday” next to a zillion things, I could see it was time to prioritise.

I was just about ready to put a line through a lunch I had planned with two girlfriends before I realised I was getting my priorities wrong. I shifted my thinking, re-prioritised my day around making time for lunch and discovered how easy it was to move things to other days and even write things off completely as ‘just not that important right now’.

3. Work out the next day in advance

Literally write down everything you are going to do on the next day, in the rough order you are going to do it

4. Leave an hour or two uncommitted

As you may know, I tend towards the hyper-efficient. This used to mean I would plan too much for a given day because I knew I could get it all done. The reality of a day though is that the odd thing here and there will crop up and require your immediate attention. When I would plan too much in a day, anything unplanned would rock my world and make me stressed because I hadn’t allowed for it. I am now MUCH better at accommodating contingencies in my day now.

5. Tick it off

When you’ve done something on your list, even if it is “pack Jaden’s bag for daycare”, tick it off. You get a pleasant little mental jolt from ticking something off as ‘done’.

At the end of a long day when you’re feeling overwhelmed – the last thing you may want to do is sit down and write anything. You probably just want to collapse into bed, but I suspect that you will probably lie there in bed turning all the things you need to do the next day in your mind. And undoubtedly, something will pop up that makes you think “oh crap, I’d better not forget to do that”! Getting everything down on to paper will allow your brain to switch off and give you the great night’s sleep you need to take on the next day with gusto!

Now excuse me, I need to go and tick this post off as ‘done’!

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  1. says

    Wonderful tips Kelly! I am an over-committer too and your tips have given me the kick I need to stop the ‘overwhelm’.

    tick it oh yeah, done!!! Good for you! Can’t wait to see your problogger implementation when the time is right.

  2. says

    Just looking at my lists makes me feel overwhelmed! I have enough on my “around the house” list to last me 6 months, even if I didn’t work or waste time on social media ;-)

    Great tips though.

    • Kelly Exeter says

      A great tip I read in Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” is to put a few ‘quick and easy to knock off’ items at the top of your list. Ticking them off will give you a little boost, make you feel like you have actually accomplished something, and give you the energy to tackle the next few, bigger items!!

  3. says

    Brilliant! Now just to find and gather said lists from car, kitchen, bag, receipt back, iphone…all in various states of completion…sigh!

    • Kelly Exeter says

      Ha Jo! I am the same – I have at least 6 different notebooks all over the house, all with different notes and lists. Just before writing this post I consolidated them all in one spreadsheet … it felt so good!!

  4. lorraine corbitt says

    Well Kelly you are a girl after my own heart – I am a list person and Kev always laughs at me especially the ticking it off bit

    • Kelly Exeter says

      You’ve got to be able to tick!! It’s the smallest things in life that give us a little burst in pleasure I reckon :)

  5. says

    What a great post! I’m definitely a list person, and i LOVE the feeling of crossing things off my list. (pen & paper lists are so much more enjoyable than an electronic list too! I’m twisted, I know) and I really find they help to declutter my brain when I’m overwhelmed! Thanks for sharing :)

    • says

      Well you know if you published your To Do list I would probably buy it?

      Speaking of … my copy of Career Mums arrived today!! I just need to get through Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” before I can start on it. Not that ‘getting through’ A Year in Provence is a chore. His writing is quite delightful!

    • says

      Making realistic lists has long been a challenge for me but I think I have finally got there. And it’s totally the difference between being depressed by your lists … and energised!

  6. says

    Some people do good list, me, nup, no chance. I do do an excellent job of buying large amounts of organising type of stationery, especially from pretty stationery shops. I just struggle a bit to actually use them. A little green with envy actually now. Popping by from the Rewind

  7. says

    I’m a list fanatic, Kell. Although, I was just on Marcy’s site (Squeamish something… she’s linked up to the Rewind!) and I realised that lists are one thing, but goals are another. I need to take my lists and make them into action plans and then I reckon I’ll get more on top of things!! x

    • says

      Funny you should say that because this year I have (so far) made the conscious decision NOT to set goals. Ten years of serious triathlon made me a bit of a goal setting addict and it carried over into my non-athlete life – I was FOREVER setting goals and targets and then beating myself up when I didn’t hit them. Or worse, if I could see I wasn’t going to hit them, I wouldn’t accept ‘near enough’ – it was all or nothing.

      So this year I am trying to take a more “something is better than nothing” approach and am trying to set bigger picture stuff rather than specific goals!

  8. says

    Kelly I am really good at this bit – the list making but dreadful at remember to even look at the list! I miss appointments at work because I forget to open my diary in the morning. Absolute basket case! Some great ideas here though. I particularly like your comment above about being goaless this year. Very Zen Habits. Thanks for joining the Weekend Rewind x

    • says

      Oh Sister C – we need to get you addicted to the jolt of pleasure you get from TICKING. And you can’t tick or put a line through something if you never look at the list!!


  9. says

    Super excellent post! I am definitely on the right track except for leaving an hour or two uncommitted AND over committing the waking hours I do have. Maybe there should be an item on our To Do List which says: Say No to ‘x’ project or ‘x’ event. It would remind us to avoid over committing ourselves and better yet, afterwards we can tick it off too ;-)