Have too much to do? You’re not alone. A recent survey of 1,300-plus people shows that 60 percent of us are overcommitted, and have more on our to-do lists than we can reasonably accomplish. What’s more (and quite scary) is that the same number of people say they have more than 60 tasks on their weekly to-do lists, including work and personal commitments.
But beyond feeling constantly overwhelmed, a long to-do list can have negative impacts on your work life. “When employees feel like they’re not able to accomplish their to-do lists, it leaves them feeling overwhelmed, which is usually followed by dread,” says Tiffany Gibson, career coach and creator of Get the Job App. “And when employees cross over to the feeling of dread — where they begin to resent their job and everything about their work — it’s not a good place for the employer. When this happens, it means there’s a high chance that this employee is now disengaged and probably actively looking for new employment.”
When your to-do list gets too long, you don’t have to submit to dread. Instead, here are five ways you can tackle your to-do list and relieve stress while maintaining work satisfaction.
1. Respect Your Time
According to Gibson, “Your calendar is key.” She recommends that you add everything on your to-do list to your calendar — including “breaks, time to work on projects, meetings and everything else.” she says. “[There are] a million things to do but everything isn’t urgent, so start by setting realistic expectations. Then, if it’s not on your calendar, decide on if it’s something that should be added or can be completed on another day. If you respect your time and your calendar, it will help you with setting boundaries.”
2. Eliminate Distractions
When you’re overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to get lost in distractions such as Instagram, Facebook, checking emails or texting friends. But, “if [you can] eliminate all distractions by doing things like closing email, turning [your] phone to silent and putting it in your desk, and closing all unnecessary browser windows, you'll find you can focus on the task at hand and finish it more quickly and efficiently,” says marketing consultant Ron Stefanski. “And then, you can take a small break and then rinse and repeat to knock tasks out more effectively.”
3. Set Boundaries
“If you want to avoid being stressed, embrace the word ‘no,’” says Gibson, who advises that you “know your limits and your calendar to know what you can do and what is beyond your bandwidth.” Then practice setting boundaries with your time and work to-do list so “that you allow yourself to unwind and breathe and have fun outside of work,” she says.
4. Limit Meetings
Sometimes, “one of the biggest time wasters at any company is meetings,” argues Stefanski. And so, “if an employee looks over their schedule and reviews meetings they’re requested in, they can always email the organizer of the meeting and request they be removed unless absolutely necessary.” This small move can lead to big improvements in your to-do list, he says. “While someone shouldn't make a habit of doing this, it can be helpful to get a couple hours of their day back in the short term until the to-do list has been shortened,” he says.
5. Prioritize Tasks With Your Superior
As Stefanski points out, “In many cases, a worker and a superior may not have the same vision into what the highest priority project is. And this occurs because the superior may know more information about the strategic vision of the company while an employee may not.” So, when your to-do list gets too long, it’s a good idea to sit down with your employer to ask what your top priorities should be. “One of the best things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed is talk to your superior and explain that you want to make sure you’re on the same page in terms of prioritizing the tasks,” he says. “Doing so will help you understand what needs to get done first and [help you] know you're working on the right project.”