Too many things on your to-do list? Read this.

The never-ending to-do list circles around your head as the cranial pressure mounts, a rising wave of ‘too many things to do, not enough time’ crashes over you, accompanied by a slight twitch in your left eye and the start of a headache that promises to thwart your attempts at crossing more items off the list: sound familiar? 

The interesting thing I’ve noticed about this state of overwhelm is that whilst we usually locate its cause in the external, like so many things the pressure itself is often created internally, which is great because it means we can do something about it.

Nope, you’re wrong, it’s definitely the million things I have to do that are stressing me out

I hear you. I used to feel this way too, still do sometimes.  But the thing is, as long as we’re alive and functioning, we will have a list of things to do.  The mirage I have in my head of blitzing the list once and for all and retiring to a sun-soaked island to sip mojitos is just that, a mirage.  Even if I make it to the island, I’m still going to need to order the mojito, perhaps I can’t find a waiter, or they bring the wrong drink, perhaps after the third mojito I need the toilet and have to schlep to the hotel to find the loo before getting back and realising some chump has stolen my prime-spot sunbed, even though I left my hat on it; now I have to find the hat and a sunbed and get another mojito.  The point is, even in situations where we think there’ll be nothing to do, there’s always something to do, and the difference in whether this creates pressure or not is often in the way we think about things. 

So, first thing’s first: accept the list.

Accepting there will always be a list can go some way to relieving the pressure, but what about the overwhelm we feel when there really is more to do than can humanly be achieved?

In case of overwhelm, sit down

Brew a cup of tea, get a glass of water, stare out the window, just take a break.

Hold on…did you just say when I’m super busy and have loads to do I should SIT DOWN?  Like, in a chair?  And ignore the to-do list?  But how does that help?!

When I’m too busy I turn into a flapper.  I waste so much energy thinking about how to get everything done and not enough time doing things.  My brain goes into overthinking, overwhelmed, overdrive and I don’t make good decisions.  I rush, I make mistakes, I don’t think things through properly and I forget things, because my focus is on reaching the mythical paradise at the end of the list, which feels suspiciously like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If I ever make it to the end guess what happens? Spoiler alert: I find more things to do!

But when I take some time out to rest, even if it’s just a cup of tea and staring out the window for five minutes, I can regain some composure and everything on the list feels more achievable.

Photo by Pixabay on

Want to supercharge your rest?  Try meditating

When I regularly meditate, I’m almost unflappable.  The to-do list can be never-ending, but meditating helps to take away the pressure.  I’m able to look at my tasks with more clarity, see what needs to be done today, what can wait until tomorrow or next week and what might never get done at all (tell me it’s not just me who has that one thing that rolls over on to every to-do list?) 

Often, we put pressure on ourselves about things that in reality will take us five minutes, or things that don’t need done yet.  When I really focus on what needs doing right now, I find the non-urgent stuff often resolves itself as I go along. If it doesn’t then I can deal with it when it needs sorting out, with a minimal expense of energy. 

That doesn’t mean I always feel like I’m on top of everything, I’m only human and no amount of meditation can change that.  Rather, when I start to feel that overwhelming pressure of all the competing things I must get done right now, I recognise this as a sign that I’m falling into overwhelm.   Going faster or trying to cram one more thing into a busy day won’t help.  What will help is sitting down in a comfortable chair, closing my eyes and saying my mantra for twenty minutes.  I’m not a fan of human/technology analogies (because we’re not machines) but this one works so I’ll use it: it’s like when a smart phone glitches because there are too many apps open; often performing a reset will correct the problem. To me, that’s what meditation does for an overwhelmed brain: a reset to help it run smoothly again.

It might feel counterintuitive to stop when there’s so much to do.  Many people’s protestations about meditation have to do with not having enough time in a day to sit still, but the weird thing is it often creates the headspace I need to get things done, so when I meditate regularly it feels like I’ve got more time.  Plus, it’s much healthier than a fag break, which is where I took my twenty minutes in my younger days.   

When we’re repeatedly stuck in highly stressed, overwhelmed states, our nervous systems can become dysregulated, which long term can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.  A dysregulated nervous system can cause us to massively overreact with defensiveness or anger in some situations and be almost catatonically apathetic in others.  The root cause is the same: a nervous system that is continuously releasing stress chemicals into our body and engendering a fight or flight response. I think of meditation as a cleansing process, detoxing me of the everyday micro-stresses before they can build up and overwhelm me.  I suspect I’m going against the cultural grain here, but I also find it more effective for unwinding than a beer. 

Oh, and it’s not just for new age hippies, old-school tough guys practice it too:

“I’m a great supporter of Transcendental Meditation. I’ve been using it for almost 40 years now – and I think it’s a great tool for anyone to have, to be able to utilize as a tool for stress. Stress, of course, comes with almost every business. I think there are enough studies out there that show that TM is something that could benefit anybody. It’s a great system to use. Otherwise, why would I have been doing it for all these years, for almost half of my life?”

Clint Eastwood

What practice helps you to de-stress?

Photo by Barbara Olsen on

I hope this post helps you find some calm in the Christmas rush. Or maybe you’re cool as a cucumber and looking forward to the festive season, or you don’t celebrate Christmas and you’re looking forward to a well deserved break, either way I hope you found a nugget of something useful. If you enjoyed this post and you haven’t already subscribed please consider doing so. I never spam because I don’t know how. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

2 thoughts on “Too many things on your to-do list? Read this.

  1. Yes, it’s true, we will never be on top of everything that we think needs to be done.

    I don’t know why three is significant but when I feel there’s a lot to be done, I try to do just three things, no more, and feel better for it at the day’s end.

    Do you know the novel, The Missing Postman? They made it into a tv series with James Bolam. In the story, he stays with a landlady in Scotland. She wrote all the household tasks on slips of paper, fold them and put them in a jar; an ongoing scheme. Each day, she’d take out one slip and tackle the task written on it, whether it was simple or difficult. I quite like that plan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Three feels like a good number. achievable (depending on what those three things are I suppose!)

      I don’t know the missing postman but I like the jar idea too.

      So I suppose it’s a matter of setting achievable goals, so we can feel like we’ve accomplished something, and not dwelling on the things that are left until tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

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