The Secret to a Less Stressful To-Do List
by Katie M. Reid
To-do lists are my jam. I’m surrounded by them—strewn over my desk, stored on my smart phone, scribbled on my wall calendar.
Writing things down helps me keep track of a busy schedule. There’s a deep sense of satisfaction in checking items off a list. I have a friend who adds completed tasks to her list, just for the delight of checking them off.
However, pressure builds and stress increases when my to-do list grows instead of diminishes. In fact, my list can stir up dread when I fixate on all that’s left undone. Those darling bullet points turn on me, taking aim at my sense of peace.
As a woman who gets things done—one who is made like Martha—I often scurry to the next thing instead of focusing on the task I just completed. A while ago, I finished a demanding project for work. My friend said, “You must feel great!” While I should have felt proud of the accomplishment, I was already sprinting toward the next task.
My reaction to my friend’s observation, caused me to do a little soul searching. I realized I needed to do a better job at relishing in what had already been completed.
In our hustling and bustling, we often bypass the joy of what has been accomplished. But it does not have to be that way. If we rush to “what’s next,” we shortchange (or entirely miss) the celebration of “what’s done.”
So how do we find our way back to peace without negating our bent toward productivity?
Take a deep breath. Big or small, practical or spiritual, easy or difficult, take a moment to feel good about completing an item on your list. Maybe you wrote three out of ten thank you cards, relish in the fact those three are done instead of letting the unfinished ones stress you out. Sure, you’ll feel better when all of them are written, but allow yourself the feeling of satisfaction that comes from getting something done.
That’s the secret to a less stressful to-do list: Celebrate what you have already done instead of fixating on what is left to do.
Take stock of your efforts versus despising your limitations. For example, if you have a newborn, changing diapers and taking a shower are worthy of celebration. You might not have picked up the house like you wanted, but you completed some important things. Give yourself permission to feel good about that!
Or maybe you have a big project for work that’s not finished yet, but you made some significant headway on it. Let yourself feel grateful for the progress as you move toward your goal.
Women who are made like Martha can be hard on themselves, sometimes demanding more than is humanly possible. It’s admirable to get things done, but it’s no fun when we are edgy and worn out—striving to tackle a to-do list that has no end in sight.
As you begin to focus on what you did get done versus all you did not, you will experience less stress and more soul rest. And I have a hunch that as you do this, you will actually be more productive in the long run.
Uncover joy while you are working on your list, instead of reserving the celebration for the completion of it.
At the end of each day, record a few things you did get done.*
finished a chapter in book
folded half of the laundry
called sister back
Some days might look sparse, and others may be bursting at the seams, but regardless take a moment to look back and rejoice in what is finished. This practice can help you unwind instead of rev up as you head off to sleep and as you go about your day.
*Head over to https://www.katiemreid.com/martha-resources to print off a complimentary copy of the “All Done! Calendar” to help you change your to-do list into an all-done list!
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