Q: I always feel like I have a running list of things to do, and I can never catch up. How can I better manage this feeling that I am always behind on my tasks?
A: Feeling like you always have a to-do list that you can never complete is quite common. Sometimes the anxiety this produces can be productive and help us accomplish more. Other times, however, the anxiety only hinders us and can ruin perfectly good days. Finding a way to temper these feelings may be the key to finding a better quality to your day.
First, look at what this “list” of things to do really consists of. Write everything down that you feel needs to be done. Ask yourself, how will I feel if these tasks are all accomplished? Chances are even if you complete that list there will only be new items to add to the list. Therefore, the goal is not necessarily to not have a list, but to manage the to-do list you have and to learn to live comfortably with it.
Managing a home and having responsibilities will always come with tasks to complete. Instead of wishing the list were empty, we can be thankful that this list means we are needed, useful, and productive.
Try arranging the list in order of importance, with those that need to be completed first or on a strict timeline at the top. This will help guide you to start with the items that are most time sensitive like paying bills, fixing things in your home that may cause a danger, or preparing for an event that has a deadline.
Next, see if there are any items you may be able to delegate to someone else. For example, perhaps you find paying reoccurring bills to be burdensome and you can ask a family member to help set up autopay for you. This will remove that item for your ongoing to-do list.
Consider keeping a notebook where you maintain and update this list, crossing off everything you accomplish. If you get in the habit of always writing the task down, then you can assure yourself it will get done and you won’t need worry that you will forget. Often, just by writing out your list you can allow your mind to relax and worry about remembering everything.
If you find that tasks pop into your mind at bedtime and keep you awake worrying, keep your notebook next to your bed. Once you write the item down on your list, let it go from your mind. You know you will get to it when you can.
Once you have a system and a clean ordered list, use some mindfulness techniques to help you stay on track. Allow yourself to only focus on one item to accomplish at a time. When we look at 10 items we must take care of, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. When we focus on just one task at a time we can think more clearly and get it done more effectively.
When we allow our mind to wander back to the full list and feel that anxious, running behind feeling, we will easily become distracted and be less productive. When you feel that happening take a break. Take a walk, get some air, and distract your mind. When ready, return to the task and remind yourself to focus on just one item at a time.
You may want to schedule the days and times when you will work on your list of tasks, to allow you some structure. By doing this, you can relax and enjoy your days without feeling that you should be doing something else.
Organization, structure, and a plan will help you spend less time worrying about your ongoing list of things to do. Take breaks from the list and schedule fun activities in between difficult tasks to allow for balance in your day. And, do not forget to celebrate your accomplishments and enjoy crossing things off the list.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org