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No More TOO-Do List: A Simple Guide to Keep Your To-Do List From Getting to be TOO Much

Updated: Aug 27, 2023



Guest Post by Brooke Neff


Juggling. An entertaining performance at circuses and kids parties that used to spark giggles and excitement. We would stare in disbelief as the objects circled expertly in the air without ever hitting the floor. Juggling, however, becomes much less exciting when it enters our adult lives.


Juggling, however, becomes much less exciting when it enters our adult lives.

We all do it. We juggle work, and children, and friendships, and chores, and projects, and family, and activities, and obligations. And I don’t know about you, but at some point in my adulthood I began to look at the juggling in my life, and I realized that it was not exciting or awe inspiring as the objects I juggled began to hit the floor. I was tired and overextended and so often disappointed in myself. I realized, I wasn’t enjoying life.


So in this post, I am going to discuss one big way that I became a more proficient juggler, and it all has to do with how I tackled my To-Do Lists.


Hold up. Does this apply to My Life?


Now, before I dive right in to how I revamped my approach to my To-Do Lists, some of you may be wondering, “Does this even apply to my life?” Or “How do I know if I have a problem with feeling overwhelmed and overextended?” Or maybe, “I may be overextending myself, but I have no other option. If I didn’t, nothing would get done.”


To you, I will respond like this: we all have seasons of being busy. In those seasons, do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stretched thin, or unable to complete everything that needs to be done and still have time for yourself? Do you find that you seem to be in a never-ending busy season with no end in sight? Do you find that the over abundance of your responsibilities causes you to hide away and avoid instead of working through them, leaving you with a constant feeling of undone tasks hovering over you?


Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stretched thin, or unable to complete everything that needs to be done and still have time for yourself? Do you find that you seem to be in a never-ending busy season with no end in sight? Do you find that the over abundance of your responsibilities causes you to hide away and avoid instead of working through them, leaving you with a constant feeling of undone tasks hovering over you?

If any of this has resonated with you, I believe you will benefit greatly from this post. I am going to ask you to take some time to evaluate your life and your approach to your obligations with the hope that at the end of this you will have a few new tools to better handle your dreaded TOO-Do List.


Narrow it down to your MUST Do’s


When I first acknowledged that I had a problem with overextending myself, I took a long hard look at my To Do list, and I realized I had been biting off more than I could chew. I had way too much on my plate. No wonder I felt like I was failing. I needed to trim the fat, so I narrowed my list down to my MUST Do’s. I asked myself, what can wait and what do I really NEED to get done?


I narrowed my list down to my MUST Do’s.

For example, I had family unexpectedly coming into town, and as a new mom, my house was often in disarray. I immediately went into stress mode thinking about all the things I had to do before company arrived, but then I stopped myself. I reminded myself to look at the MUST Do’s. Instead of putting the pressure on myself to do my usual pre-mommy thorough clean of my entire house, I decided a MUST Do would be to tidy, while a CAN Do would be deep cleaning. (Let’s face it, none of my family members would be taking a white glove to my house while staying with me.)


Also, remember it is okay to say NO to a new obligation and YES to yourself. We all need “me time,” so feel free to put this as a MUST on your To-Do List if you need the visual reminder. We all deserve time to relax and decompress. So if you needed to hear it today, I am officially releasing you of the pressure to say yes to that extra day pitching in for the car pool, or that coffee date on a day you’re already booked, or that coworker who has asked you to cover for them when you simply don’t have the time or energy. There will be another time for you to say yes when you have more time to devote to extra tasks. You know yourself better than anyone. Trust your gut, and don’t feel guilty when saying no to new tasks. Your mental health will thank you later.


Remember it is okay to say NO to a new obligation and YES to yourself.... You know yourself better than anyone. Trust your gut, and don’t feel guilty when saying no to new tasks. Your mental health will thank you later.

So, for the first time, that’s what I did. I took my MUST Do mentality and gave myself permission to say NO to anything extra. At the end of this, I felt as though a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Instead of feeling a crushing pressure to scamper around the house to complete an endless TOO Do List, I took a look at my MUST Do’s, and they seemed perfectly do-able. By trimming the fat, I was finally setting myself up for success instead of failure.


Prioritize and then Take it One at a Time


Once you have your MUST Do’s, take a look at your list and prioritize. You can do this however you want. You can prioritize by most to least important, most to least time consuming, least to most favorite. The possibilities are endless, and it is really up to you.


Then, when you see your number one task, just start it. It’s that simple. Do it. Don’t worry about the rest of the list. Don’t start two tasks at once. Let everything else be for now. You can get to them later. Begin task one and COMPLETE it.


Sounds easy right? Maybe for you it will be a piece of cake. For me this was easier said than done, and I had to develop this step as a discipline in my life.


You see, I have a natural tendency to begin my first task of say, tidying the kitchen counters, and on my way to put an item in its place, I will pass another task on my To Do List, and get side tracked while I begin the second task. While my intentions are good, after all it seems efficient doesn’t it? Completing two tasks at once. It is actually a big distraction for me that ends up being more time consuming in the end because my attention is split, and I’m not truly focusing on either task, so I end up moving aimlessly through my house trying to juggle too many tasks at once. This inevitably leaves me feeling stressed and overwhelmed once again.


Simplify things. Focus completely on one task at a time. That pile of shoes by the door, that work email, that assignment, whatever it is will still be there after you finish your first task, and then you can confront it with a clear, focused mind.


Simplify things. Focus completely on one task at a time.

Give yourself Grace not Excuses


Say it with me, “We are all human.” Sometimes we will not finish our To-Do List. Hey, it happens. Your goal should to be to avoid a lifestyle of undone To-Do Lists. Your goal cannot be to always complete your To-Do List in the originally anticipated timeline. This is just an unrealistic pressure to put on yourself. Give yourself grace in these times of unexpected interruptions.


On the other hand, if you have ever procrastinated, I am willing to bet you simply had too much on your plate, too much to do in too little time. You looked at your TOO-Do List, realized there was no way you could be successful in completing all of the tasks, so you chose not to try or to put it off. This is not an example of giving yourself grace. This is an example of giving yourself an excuse. We have all been there. We have all put things off because they seem to be too much at one point or another in our lives. So we also all know that procrastinating like this only serves to make our lives more stressful. It doesn’t actually save us any stress, it just moves the stress to the side, and there it will stay, in the back of your mind until you are ready to actually deal with the tasks at hand.


Life happens. Sometimes we don’t check off all the boxes on our To-Do List. That is OKAY. That is why we prioritize and take it one task at a time, so that when we run out of time, we are not looking around frantically at five half-way undone tasks. Instead, we are looking at our four most important tasks completed, and so we are able to take a breath, forgive ourselves for being human, and let the fifth task go until we have time to revisit it.


That is why we prioritize and take it one task at a time, so that when we run out of time, we are not looking around frantically at five half-way undone tasks. Instead, we are looking at our four most important tasks completed, and so we are able to take a breath, forgive ourselves for being human, and let the fifth task go until we have time to revisit it.

Little Successes lead to a Greater Sense of Accomplishment


In the end, these three steps create a simplified task-by-task approach to tackling even the most challenging To-Do Lists. By walking through this To-Do process, you will be setting yourself up for little successes along the way that will turn into a larger feeling of overall accomplishment and confidence.


I now consider myself a pretty proficient juggler of my life. Things still happen, tasks are sometimes left undone, my To-Do List sometimes gets pushed back. But I don’t stress like I used to, because over time this has become second nature. I don’t have to narrow my To-Do List down to my MUST Do’s every time. I just know what they are. I don’t have to sit down and prioritize my list before starting the first task. I now know what is most important to me and what makes me feel the greatest sense of accomplishment. I don’t have to remind myself not to make excuses and to give myself grace. Ha! Okay, that one is still a work in progress for me, but I’m only human, and I’m trying. After all, that’s the best you can do.


So pat yourself on the back for an attempt at a job well done, and then pat yourself on the back again for making it through this entire post. I appreciate the time and energy you took to listen to me speak to you through the internet. If I could give you a hug, I would, and I sincerely hope these little tips help remove some unnecessary stress from your lives, and allow you to live your life with a new sense of accomplishment and confidence when tackling all the little To-Do’s.

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