Are you feeling overwhelmed, stuck, and unable to get through what feels like a mountain of to-dos?
In this week’s blog post I will share with you one of the simplest yet most effect methods for gaining a sense of control and achievement when faced with a lot to get through. List-making.
We have all had days and extended periods of feeling bogged down by tasks and life in general.
It is during these times that we tend to retreat in fear of not being able to cope with what we have to accomplish, and find ourselves trapped in a paralyzing web of procrastination.
Your mind is filled with a hazy sense of having too much to do, various tasks float in and out of your awareness but do not seem clear or definite.
You are left feeling smothered and with a sense of foreboding about the future.
Here are five steps you can follow in order to use list-making to support your burdened mind.
ONE: Make a full-bodied list
Writing an extensive list of to-dos helps make concrete what is contributing to your sense of being overwhelmed.
Write whatever comes to mind until your mind has emptied out all the tasks onto your piece of paper.
Think of it as a mental enema. No-one likes to feel physically constipated. The same goes for mental constipation!
You may find that this decreases your sense of distress and it soon becomes clearer to you that the list of tasks you need to accomplish is limited – rather than what felt like unlimited agony.
TWO: Prioritize items
Whether you are writing your list by hand or completing it on Word or Excel, take what you have written and highlight what is a true priority.
Ask yourself, “What needs to get done today?” and let this guide you in isolating important items on the list.
More often than not, there will be a lot less pressing and urgent concerns than you originally anticipated.
THREE: De-prioritize remaining list items
Take the remaining items on your list (that can wait till another day) and position them lower down on the page – after the tasks you have identified as urgent.
You may find yourself re-writing your original list at this point. (Remember: re-writing lists can be helpful and is also part of ordering what feels like chaos.)
You might want to group remaining tasks into what needs to be done tomorrow, and after that.
This will help illustrate to yourself that an avalanche of tasks don’t await you tomorrow!
FOUR: Create sub-tasks
Still feeling overwhelmed and unable to move forward?
I often advise my clients to split tasks that feel insurmountable into smaller sub-tasks.
These smaller parts of the whole may appear trivial but may help one feel more able to make headway.
FIVE: Track your progress and give yourself a pat on the back
Don’t just keep your list as a reminder of what you need to do, but hold onto your list as a reminder of what you have already achieved!
When one is feeling tired, anxious, or depressed, one is more likely to concentrate on what you have not achieved, or what still needs to get done.
Or in other words: One tends to see life through a glass half empty, rather than a glass full point-of-view.
In cognitive behaviour therapy terms, one tends to:
- minimize the positive,
- think in catastrophic terms (i.e. believing that the worst possible case scenario will take place), and employ
- emotional reasoning (i.e. feeling like you will fail, therefore believing that you will actually fail).
Being able to draw a line through an item on your to-do list, to scratch it off, and to review your progress at the end of each day helps to support your tired and demotivated state of mind against the distorted thoughts and feelings that make you feel that you have made no progress.
Being able to physically see what you have already completed will likely provide you with the sense of accomplishment to continue making progress on the remaining subtasks.
List-making, as described above, is a concrete way of supporting oneself during times of feeling rushed, pressurized, unable to think clearly, and when you have little belief in yourself.
When depressed, one feels like one is unable, inadequate, and hopeless.
In an anxious state of mind, one fears that one will not be able to do something or that any attempts will end in failure.
Both states of mind (be they longer-term or fleeting) lead to procrastination – which I define as avoidance of what one fears.
List-making is a supportive tool that can carry one through these difficult periods.
Are you currently struggling to face tasks that feel too large to handle? Have you used list-making to support yourself when feeling overwhelmed? Perhaps you have some techniques that might be of help to other readers? Let us know in the comment section below.