How to Control an Overwhelming To-Do List

At the start of the week, I found myself feeling overwhelmed, and the more I cut my to-do list down, the more it seemed to grow. In this post, learn more about the trick I used to get out of this stressful situation.

How to Control an Overwhelming To-Do List

This week, I fell into the getting things done (GTD) busyness trap. I seemed to have crossed off dozens of items from my list, but I never got that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. It seemed the more I cut the list down, the more it grew.

The Effective Trick

This is where I have to remind myself of a simple, yet effective, question: What is one thing I need to do today that will take the largest load off of my shoulders?

Instead of getting bogged down by unimportant tasks, I use this question to tackle the largest stressor and actually get more done than just crossing off the little things. This is where the Eisenhower Matrix also comes in handy. Instead of prioritizing my urgent and important tasks, I was bundling all of my tasks on one list this week. Thus, I lost sight of what was important and completed the urgent, but not important, tasks first.

The one to-do that you are dreading, but reduces the most stress, is the task you should start with. And if you happen to only get that one thing done the whole day, your mind will still feel lighter because you have finished what was weighing you down.

Instead of trying to be a multi-tasking productivity guru, just do one thing per day from your long list of tasks.

Another important tip is to try not to add more to your to-do list once you have set it for the day. New tasks always seem to pop up in the middle of the day, but defer those to a later date, unless they are truly urgent and important.

Below, I have included my to-do list for the week and the one important daily task I aimed to accomplish.

My To-Do List

Note: There were more tasks scheduled for the week, but for the sake of clarity I cut the list down to the big things. The tasks that are bolded were the ones that took the most weight off my shoulders.

Monday: complete two units of Boards preparation, record a neurological screening exam video, and watch lectures

Tuesday: study for the ocular disease exam, complete two units of Boards preparation, watch lectures, study for a quiz, and edit the neurological screening exam video

Wednesday: study for the ocular disease exam, watch lectures, and complete two units of Boards preparation

Thursday: study for the ocular disease exam, complete two units of Boards preparation, and review watched lectures

Friday: ocular disease exam today, complete two units of Boards preparation, review watched lectures, and submit video

Saturday: work on neurological screening report and live Boards preparation session

Sunday: plan the next week, research and write the blog post and newsletter, live Boards preparation session

As you can see, there were some recurring themes this week, but my priorities changed every day even if the tasks were similar to previous days. I eventually got to everything, but the one task-per-day forced me to plan out my priorities.

Have you ever fallen into the "GTD busyness trap?" If so, do you feel like this trick will help? Let me know in the comments!