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Life Coach: The To-Do List panic

How to beat the to-do list overwhelm (Corbis via Getty Images)
How to beat the to-do list overwhelm (Corbis via Getty Images)

Dear Lily, my life feels like a stream of endless to-do lists. Make it stop! How do I actually get shit done?

Dear reader, I hear you! Life is demanding, packed full of obligations, choices and distractions that can easily leave us feeling overwhelmed and as if we’re never actually accomplishing anything.

My advice is threefold. First, accept that you will never, ever ‘complete’ your to-do list. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the moment you cross one thing off, another pops straight on. Give up trying to ‘win’, and you’ll see your to-do list for what it is — a helpful, organisational tool that is supposed to serve your life, not the other way round. It doesn’t have to be an albatross around your tired neck. You’re in charge.

Second, get ruthless. It’s impossible for you to do everything, so take a cold, hard look at that list and decide what’s important. In order to ensure you have the time and energy for the stuff that matters to you — the ‘shit’ you want to get done — you need to take some stuff off your list. Are other people’s needs dwarfing your own? Can you say no, and mean it?

Third, learn to prioritise. Categorise the remaining tasks according to importance. Whatever is non-negotiable for your wellbeing comes first; carve out time and guard it fiercely. If there’s something significant and personal — a big project — find 30 minutes every day to dedicate to it. You may need to get up earlier or say no to mid-week drinks for a while; reminding yourself why it’s important will make finding that time easier. With the less soul-enriching but urgent stuff — bills, etc — group it all together and set aside an hour each week to race through them.

As far as I can tell, life is one big game of whack-a-mole. But it’s your game — try to enjoy it.

Got an issue? Tag Lily at @theprioritiesmethod