Overwhelmed? Go Make Your List

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As I mentioned yesterday, this is the time of year when the Big O word (no, not that one!) can sneak up behind us very, very quickly.  I’m talking about getting Overwhelmed.  Given that the shops started reminding us of the upcoming festivities back in September, I’m not quite sure how ‘sneaking’ plays a part, but sure enough, if you blink a few times during October and November, then December starts breathing down your neck in all its overwhelming wintry glory.

2010 is particularly tricky for me as I’m quitting a job, starting a business, convincing an elusive electrician to change all our light fixtures, preparing my house for a neighborhood party (yep, they all want to see inside a Professional Organizer’s closets) and  flying to England shortly after that, hopefully with a few gifts stashed somewhere about my person.  The pressure is certainly starting to build, but over the years, I have developed one never-fail tactic for the stress and fluster that comes from being overwhelmed: I make a very large list. Here’s why:

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1. It gets stuff out of your head.  Sure, we all have a gazillion brain cells, but the more things that try to fit inside my gray matter, the more useless I get.  And genius thoughts popping up when my head finally hits the pillow at night are not in the least bit welcome.

2. Sometimes, your list will show you that things aren’t actually as overwhelming as you thought.  No kidding, my to-do list this week has about 40 items on it, and those are in addition to the paid job I’m allegedly spending 40 hours on.  But that’s OK: 6 things per day are just about do-able and even if they’re not, the most important ones stand more chance of getting checked off.

3. Especially with shopping or gift lists, by writing it all down, you’ll probably spot multiple things which can be done in one store. This enables you to get clever and visit multi-faceted stores like Target (US) or John Lewis (UK) to take care of several birds with one stone.  Look out also for tasks which you can slot in, while you have little nuggets of waiting time here and there.

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4. Do a rough add-up of the time needed for each task, and if (as is likely) you are over-reaching, your list will show you loud and clear that it simply can’t all happen.  So, now you know it’s time to cull.  Strangely, I suffer far more from over-ambition with my weekend lists than I do during the week.  What’s really shocking, of course, is that I have “weekend to-do lists”.  Yeah, I know, sad.  At least the crowd who hang out over at Penelope Loves Lists understand me.

5. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it all done. Very, very few people do. But do enjoy the pleasure of checking something off! If you feel really anxious about getting everything done and feel that your time just disappears, hang onto your lists for a couple of weeks.   Look back, and you’ll be surprised at just how much you accomplished.

Personally, I take comfort from one very large list (which uses rather small font to fit on one page).  I like seeing stuff in just one place, as I find picking out my priorities easier that way. How many to-do lists do you use, to run your life?

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6 Responses to Overwhelmed? Go Make Your List

  1. GB says:

    I make lists for things that are likely to overwhelm me, because putting it down on paper makes it “real”. Grocery lists?-sure, sometimes, but I’m apt to forget where I put those.

    On an unrelated note, travel (yes, long distance–very long distance) may be in the works for us and I’d love to hear your advice on traveling with your sanity intact. I’m planning to do a post on the topic sometime soon, so it’ll be great to compare notes!

  2. Tricia Rose says:

    “How do I to-do list? Let me count the ways…”
    Two Moleskines, which are meant to be ‘work’ and ‘personal’ but I can’t tell the difference rally…
    A big five-section bound workbook stuffed with overlapping, colour-coded lists which stop being colour-coded when I can’t find the right marker.
    All these lists mean I LOVE crossing out things once they are done – and sometimes I get to cross out the same task multiple times! I often find an old list and am AMAZED that everything is done, or has become irrelevant. Very soothing.

  3. Bromeliad says:

    I use lots of lists. Sometimes its worthwhile to keep them. When you think you aren’t getting anything accomplished, just look back at some of your lists.

  4. Shelley says:

    About 30-40 lists, no joke. I read http://www.thesimpledollar.com/ The Simple Dollar’s posts about Getting Things Done (the book) and his method of application and went for it. I’m waiting for him to finish his commentary on Making It All Work (another book, same author) before downloading and studying that. Seriously helpful ideas – about lists.

    I think I’d rather bare a lot of things before showing off my closets – I’m in awe of you!

  5. It’s not just the readers over at Penelope’s that understand you. :-)

    This is great advice, because you’re right that no one (at least no human) can actually ever accomplish every single thing on the list. I like keeping different categories of lists (things I must do today or this week, things I want to keep on the near-term horizon, and things that I hope to do “some day”), and I almost always notice that when I write things down I get an immediate sense of which tasks are truly important and which are expendable.

    BUT, if I’m feeling in one of those insecure moods when I feel like I just MUST accomplish something, I will break a larger task down into mini steps and write them all down… that way I get to check several things off the list, and that makes me feel better. :-) That’s what it’s really about anyway, right?

  6. AlexisAnne says:

    Have you used any online list makers?
    I just stumbled upon one called TeuxDeux and fell in love with it for its simplicity:

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