What’s the best action when overwhelmed by too many items on your To-Do list?

I often advise my clients to add this option: Do less.

Their immediate reaction is panic. What? What?! How can I possibly choose ‘Do less’? Are you kidding me? I’ll get even farther behind?

Breathe — Review — Subtract

After reminding them to stop and take a deep breath, I ask them to read me their their To-Do lists.

And I listen. This is what I hear:

  • I need to do this.
  • I have to do that.
  • So and so expects me to start / finish whatever.
  • Then there’s this I need to do.
  • And, then I still have to do that. It’s been on my list for so long.

And so it goes until they reach the end of their lists. Or I stop them.

Then I remind them that as long as they are using words like “I need to,” “I have to,” “expects me to” they aren’t taking responsibility for themselves or their choices.

Surprised you, didn’t I? 😉

Be honest. You expected me to say: We review the list looking for what really doesn’t need to be done or can be delegated.

And, yes, those things are important.

But here’s the thing. Assuming responsibility for your choices comes first if you truly want to overcome overwhelm and move forward successfully. Without that you’ll remain at the mercy of what you think you “need” or “have” to do, as well as what you think others “expect” you to do.

So first do less worrying and complaining about what you think you need to do, have to do, or believe you are expected to do.

And do more about taking responsibility.  If, after careful review you feel the task worthy of you doing it, use words that reflect your commitment.

Teacher doing subtraction on chalkboardHere are a few examples:

  • Instead of  “I need to take the dog to the vet.” say “I choose to take the dog to the vet on Monday.”
  • Instead of “I need to sort my photos into albums.” say “I choose to ignore my photos for now. I will re-evalute how important putting them into albums is another time.”
  • Instead of  “I need to clean out the garage it’s a mess.” say “I feel stressed whenever I look in the garage and see what a mess it is. I am choosing to block out 2 hours on Saturday to tackle the most obvious things to throw out or put in their place. When I complete the 2 hours I will decide if I want to continue another hour. When I stop working on cleaning out the garage on Saturday, I will block out another 2 hour time slot in my planner.”
  • Instead of “Frank expects me to finish getting all the paperwork ready for tax time all by myself.” say “I don’t mind helping Frank gather and sort everything needed for our taxes but I don’t like to do it all by myself. I’m choosing to discuss it with him tonight after dinner. Maybe we can decide a time when we can work on it together or at least decide which categories we could handle separately for now.”
  • Instead of “Susan expects me to go shopping with her after work on Wednesday.” say “I’m choosing to tell Susan that I’d love to go shopping with her some other time.”

Take a look at your To-Do list.

Read it out loud. Listen carefully. Are you taking responsibility for your choices?

Not sure? Try taping yourself as you read through your list. What do you hear yourself saying?

What choices will you be making next to your To-Do list?

Share your new to-do’s and mind-set tweaks in the comment section below.

Want some help with that tweaking? Schedule a free 30 minute no-strings attached Discovery Session with me (Kat) today. I’ve opened up several extra spots for the next few weeks. Click here now.

  • Great post Kathy! I really liked the option of “Do Less”. It’s funny I had this same conversation with myself a few months ago. I was dreading going to the gym to get in a run. I kept saying “I have to go for a run”, and the more I said it the longer I put it off. Then it dawned on me that no one was putting a gun to my head. I was going for a run because I “wanted” to run. Once I changed my internal dialog, my energy changed and I actually went to the gym and had one of my best runs. Thanks for sharing this. I will definitely be re-evaluating my to do list and cutting it down to a “to do less” list.

  • Indeed, it is always about choices. There is very little in life we actually have to do and then a few additional things officially mandated by law and regulation. The rest is choice. Being able to make a choice is the first thing you need to learn after potty training. If you didn’t, then you need to learn it now. Being willing to make a choice is the next thing. Most of us take a little prodding to get to that point. Once we do there is no stopping us. -Steve/wiz.

  • 5 hours ago
    Randy Whitehorne

    Hi Kathy. Most people come online and figure they are going to do well. They are given information and told they are going to make a fortune. Join program after program and eventually do become overwhelmed and quit. I have learned to master one step at a time. Master one and use it and move on to another. There have been times when I have been overwhelmed but that’s when I step back for a while, do something that I enjoy and think things over. Then I go back and start over with a written plan of action. You have to plan on doing one step at time and master one item at a time.

  • What a wonderful way to look at things. I often get a little overwhelmed by things that I have to do. Single mom and all that and I never thought about changing the way I think about things. I always think I have to go home and cook dinner. In fact I like cooking for my children but I always feel a rush when I get off of work to get home and cook them dinner. I am going to try and look at as I want to go home and cook my children dinner instead of I have too. Maybe then I won’t feel so rushed. Just a small example of how I will put your post to good use 🙂

    • Hi Beth. Thanks for sharing how you’ll put what you drew from this post to good use. Would love to know how doing it consistently for a bit changes the dynamics of how you feel about your To-Do list in the future.

  • Good one, Kathy! I’m kind of in that situation right now, and I do have to stop and tell myself that I am enjoying what I am doing. I love the new things I’m learning, and I chose every one of them. I don’t want my business that I’ve started to become as bad as going to the office used to be. Great wake-up call.

    All the best,

  • I choose to ignore! Love that one! 😀 And you are oh, so right. It is alla about choosing a perspective. One I use I got from Louise L Hay, eons of time ago. To choose to love my bills as they are proof of someone trusting my ability to pay and for what it gives me. I LOVE my rent as I live in a wonderful apartment in a wonderful part of the city in wonderful Malmö of wonderful Sweden! I don’t Have to pay it, I just love what paying it gives me.

    Great post!

    All the best!

  • You didn’t surprise me as I just attended a workshop this weekend reminding me to choose different words to get things accomplished. You did however give me a second confirmation that I “should” (lol), make that am willing to make the change because I want to live in a different environment.

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