Most of us have too much to do. We are overwhelmed at work and overwhelmed at home.
And guess what? Most people are even more overwhelmed when they start making to-do lists. Why? Because they write down dozens of items and can see that the list will eventually have hundreds of items.
Most people aren’t good at managing their to-do lists for two simple reasons: First, they’re overwhelmed. So, second, they don’t make lists!
The real problem is not the number of things on your list. The real problem is confusing urgency with importance. Here’s a sad rule of life that is nevertheless true:
Everyone in your life is willing to put items on your to-do list; Only you can decide what actually gets on that list.
So, how do you make such decisions? Well, for starters, you have to spend enough time in introspection to know what’s truly important in your life. This starts with an understanding of your values and guiding principles. Once you focus on what’s most important in your life, it becomes easier to figure out what’s important this year, this month, this week, and each day.
I’m a big believer in meditation or morning quiet time. I know some people find it hard to do, but that’s mostly because they don’t really try. You can’t do anything effectively if you try for five minutes and decide it’s not for you. That includes meditation as well as playing the piano.
With regular meditation, you can identify the most important values and goals in your life. After that, tackling to-do lists and daily activities becomes much more manageable.
The key to success is to identify no more than three “roles” in your life that you will act on today. For example, your role as parent, employer, spouse, or community member. We all play several roles in our lives. But of course we can’t do everything every day!
Here’s how this helps you lower your stress and actually get more done: Choose only three things to do each day. More specifically, for each role in your life, choose one thing. If you’re lucky, you will accomplish those three things. And if you actually accomplish more, you should feel good about that.
But please don’t sabotage yourself. You will be tempted to choose three things per role, or two things per role. That sounds good, but leads you quickly down the road to overwhelm.
As a completely separate project (as more of an intellectual exercise), it is a good idea to keep some big master list of things that need to be done. But only do this if it relieves stress rather than adding more.
In general, you can reduce stress by focusing on the highest priority items in your life. It also helps a lot if you train yourself to stop worrying about all the low-priority stuff. I know: Easier said than done. But remember that most of that low priority stuff was put on your list by someone else.
When I first moved to California, Blue Diamond Almonds had an ad campaign with amond farmers saying, “A can a week. That’s all we ask.” This is sort of similar.
Do three things each day. That’s all I ask.