Standing in the kitchen, going further into myself as the tasks kept coming to mind, “Get chocolate chips for the cookies, sweep the floor – or baby girl will eat that sticky thing and get sick, e-mail back Sharon, Kate and Julia, I need to wash Princesses’ leotard before gymnastics tomorrow, call Megan and see how their doctor appointment went, and I really need to re-read ‘Love and Logic’ because we seriously have a three-year old in this house,” the list goes on and as it does my mind is less present in my reality and more…curling up in a fetal position deep in the recesses of myself.
This used to happen every few days, then every few weeks, and now, honestly, not that often at all. This is by no means because I’m superman and can jump into the list and get it all done, quite the contrary. I have developed a deep seeded belief in doing less and doing better. There are some things that you have to do, but a vast amount of tasks, we put on ourselves. Now, when I do have one of those days when I can start to feel the endless haze of tasks taking over my brain, there is a process that I turn to that has served me well; I hope it can be a source of calm in your life too.
First things first, find some time to sit (or walk or stand – you do you) with something to write with and on and, for lack of a better term, vomit out all the little things in your head that are nagging at you to get done. Write down EVERY. SINGLE. THING. Depending on your load and how long it’s been since you got it out, this could take a while. It is definitely an investment of your time and energy. It can even feel selfish and un-productive, like you aren’t actually getting your list done. We often skip the strategic planning phase, and while jumping right in might feel productive in the moment, your tasks will actually take more time and brain power.
“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.”
– Brian Tracy
I am pregnant with my third child and have a toddler and preschooler at home. I can reason that I have a good excuse for letting my head run wild with to-dos and say that I absolutely can’t sit for a few minutes to deal with it. For our family though, those few minutes of sorting through things can change the pace and tone of our home for the rest of the day; which is then definitely reflected in my kids. How I respond to things through the day has a big role in setting the tone of our household and in turn, my kids. My point being, as far as I’m concerned, taking the time to work through the overwhelm had return on investment for myself and my family.
The next and most important thing to do, is take your brain dump list before the Lord and pray about it. Know that He has a plan and a purpose for your life (Ephesians 2:10) and that plan absolutely translates to the day-to-day. It most likely doesn’t translate to anything glamorous or seemingly impactful, but it is important to approach your tasks with a sense of purpose in something greater than yourself. It changes how we do life in the day-to-day, and in the end, all we really have is the day-to-day.
“We have to see prayer as an action step – as something we do that makes things happen. Until we do, we’ll continue to put it off and do things on our own wisdom. We’ll strive and control an arrange, get stressed and anxious, because we think it’s up to us to make the difference.”
– Phylicia Masonheimer
Identify Your Season
Disappointment grows in the gap between your expectations and reality. If you have high expectations of everything you can get done, but it’s never working out, it might be worth stepping back and examining what season you are in. The point is really identifying discontent. Look at the responsibilities God has given you in this season and honestly assess if your overwhelming to-do list even matches that. If I’m not prayerful and proactive, my to-do list can be completely overwhelming and have almost nothing to do with what God has put on my heart for this season.
“”If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”
Luke 16:10 (NLV)
Sometimes the things on my to-do list reflect a desire that I may believe God has put on my heart for the future, but I’m rushing and pushing to get to it more quickly. When really, all that desire and dream needs right now is prayer and thoughtful trust. Identifying your season, responsibilities and God-given desires is not a task for the faint of heart. It can’t be centered on emotion (which will change day-by-day day), but has to be rooted in who God is and what He says about you. The details come from abiding in Him and walking in the Holy Spirit.
Identify your season, seek contentment with that, and let your drive and purpose translate to the present. This is far from a “give up on your dreams and just be happy with what you’ve got” message. This is a, “Don’t be robbed of your dreams and purpose by thinking they always have to be in the future” message. Often, if we look back at what we were working towards a few years ago, we can see the progress and results, but if we don’t stop to recognize that life is a journey, not a destination, then we feel more like a hamster on a wheel then a purposeful traveler on an adventure.
“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
Identify A, B & C Tasks
As things usually go, once you’ve done the convoluted & abstract soul-searching, the practical steps come more easily. If you’ve cleared your head by dumping your tasks on paper, prayed and invited God’s peace and guidance, and identified your season (and your purpose in that season) this part can flow. Take back out your brain dump list. Look over it all and first things first, cross out the things that you really don’t need to do. It’s your life and it’s up to your discretion, but I would encourage you to cut as much as possible. The more I live, the more I believe that very few things in life are really that important, and the things that are really important deserve a lot of my time and attention.
Once you’ve crossed out tasks, label the remaining tasks with letters.
- A Tasks: Completing this task will make everything else easier, it is non-negotiable and has to be done, or the Lord has really brought this to the forefront of my mind and needs my attention
- B Tasks: These tasks should be done and make a positive difference in our lives, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get done
- C Tasks: I would like to do these tasks, but it isn’t necessarily related to my main values and goals in this season (This doesn’t mean that painting your nails or self-care is always a C-task! Taking care of your own heart, mind and body is a necessary precursor to giving yourself to what you value.)
The more you organize your tasks like this, the more your head automatically thinks of things in this way. You might find that you say no to things you usually do and yes to things you wished you did more.
BONUS: Be Proactive
This is all a reactive approach to an overwhelming to-do lists and (hopefully) is very helpful! Ideally though, we would start our to-do lists like this in the first place and skip the overwhelm entirely. We would commit to things knowing our season, values and listening to the Holy Spirit. Guard your mental and physical to-do lists fiercely. Let’s live our lives purposefully and fully, because the day-to-day is really all we have.