Having a to-do list that is not anxiety-inducing

Because being organized should never bring you anxiety or stress.

Once in a while, you read stories about how successful people don’t need or even have a to-do list. And it doesn’t matter how many times I read those articles; I still don’t understand how they manage such a thing. For me, a list is an essential item to my day-to-day, and I genuinely believe it helps me succeed throughout the day (a.k.a. helps me not go insane).

One of the points that it’s often mentioned in these posts is that having a big to-do list can give you stress or anxiety. And to a certain extent, I would have to agree, especially when your list starts reaching new unattainable sizes. It can, in fact, be extremely unmotivating, and eventually, you’ll feel stressed every time you have to look at your own list.

Understanding the Power of the List

Simply put it, a list is a way to keep track of things, and it should be able to help you navigate through your day and get things done. They exist to take the stress out of your life, and that’s why you should never feel overwhelmed when looking at your to-do list.

There are a lot of things you can do to avoid having a long, confusing stress-inducing list. And when done correctly, a list (of any type or size) can give you a great sense of organization and even help you feel less stress or overwhelmed. It certainly helps me calm my anxiety. The key is organizing your list to help you be organized. Yes, I’ll admit it sounds confusing and a little weird, but I’ve tried to explain it in three simple steps.

#1 Don’t you forget about it

I think one of the most significant mistakes people often make is not looking at their list regularly. By forgetting to check your list, it’s only natural that a couple of tasks will slip your mind and you’ll forget about them. Those tasks will then have to be rescheduled, meaning that there are going to accumulate somewhere in your future. Well, if you do this one too many times, it’s only a matter of time until forgetness turns into fear of looking at a list filled with overdue tasks.

But it’s important to mention that looking too many times at your list can also be stress-inducing. You don’t need to look at it several times during a day, that’s just going to make you more anxious. Try to set a time of day when you look at what you have to do and plan accordingly with the necessary adjustments. Maybe it’s the first thing you do when you open your laptop or just the last thing before you conclude your workday. Create a habit of looking at your list, just to make sure you are following your plan for the day. Your list should also be easy to access at any time or place you need it.

#2 A to-do list is not a wish list

Another big mistake people often do is using their lists as some sort of wish list. They will fill their lists with big general tasks they wish to do, but never actually do it. Whether the task is too grand or not specific enough, having these types of tasks is really not helpful since they present no guidelines or strategy about how to actually do it. In the end, you just became overwhelmed and ended up forgetting about them or just continue to postpone them.

When writing a list, it can be very tempting to put everything on it, every thought or concern. You should be smart about the type of tasks you put there. Vague or impossible to achieve tasks are a recipe for disaster, and you’ll waste precious time trying to figure out how you are going to attempt to achieve them. A to-do list should be a way for you to write not just what you want to do, but how exactly you are going to do it. Don’t be afraid to go into detail and describe every single step you might need to take to achieve your goal. It’s a fact that breaking down a big task into small ones can actually be extremely beneficiary for your productivity.

And you can still have that wishful list, maybe a cure notebook far away from your actual list. Keep in mind that your focus and attention should be on that last one. That’s the one that counts and is going to help you make things happen.

#3 Divide and Conquer

I’ve talked previously about ways you can organize your to-do list, maybe by calendar or categories. And as I said before, for me it is incredibly stressful to look at just one huge list, so I find it better to divide it into different smaller lists.

You may find yourself in a similar situation and may need different lists for different goals and purposes. It’s okay, join the club. Dividing your tasks in a certain way can help you navigate and locate them in a more accessible way.

Now, it’s hard to give you a final number of how many lists or categories one should have since it really depends on one’s way of work. But it goes without saying that you need to be reasonable with the number because having too much or too many of anything can end up have the opposite effect you wanted. It could just be a redundant and quite counterproductive thing, and maybe you will end up feeling more overwhelmed than when you started the process.

Get has many to-do lists or categories as you find necessary without worrying about if you have too many or not enough. After this is done, you need to really evaluate each one to make sure it is up to your standards in terms of how it’s presented and organized. Basically, you should see if the list does what is supposed to do: make you more organized and productive. Your goal is to find a manageable number that you are comfortable with, meaning that it doesn’t give you any anxiety or stress.



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Filipa Amado

Designer that likes to write about Product Management and Productivity.