Raise your hand if you have had enough of never-ending to do lists. You tick one thing off, but two new things just appear out of nowhere. It’s annoying at best, stressful and overwhelming at worst.
Let’s face it. Life these days can be demanding. Work, family, friends, keeping fit, personal admin – to name a few. There’s always something vying for our attention.
At the same time, unlike our parents and grandparents, we live in a time where pretty much anything is possible. We have the technology and freedom to chase our dreams, to do more, learn more, achieve more.
The message is clear: if you work hard enough, you can ‘have it all’.
It is up 100% up to you.
And so, your main focus turns to ‘making it happen’. You focus on what you can or have to do next and you multi task in an attempt to stay on top of everything. You message your friend on the way to the gym. You finish that presentation at the same time as you eat lunch. You write down some things you shouldn’t forget whilst in an important meeting.
From the outside it might look like you have it all, but if you’re honest with yourself you’re exhausted, burnt out and stressed on the inside.
The truth is, a non-stop focus on productivity and getting things done might work in your advantage in the short run, but in the long run it actually damages not only your physical and emotional health, but also your chances of succeeding. That’s a bold claim and it’s backed by scientific research.
Many studies have shown that constantly trying to get things done and focusing on the next thing makes you feel miserable and prevents you from performing at your highest level.
So should you throw in the towel and get rid of to-do lists?
No. The answer lies in living in the present. Before you think ‘oh no, not THAT same old story again’, stay with me. Two things are important here:
One: our bodies and brains function best when we alternate between activity and rest.
It is something we tend to ignore, but you will get more done if you take the time to switch off from time to time. You’re better able to process whatever you’ve been working on if you schedule in 5 – 10 minute breaks. It is during these breaks that your brain makes new connections and comes up with new ideas. The key to these breaks is to do things that don’t require much attention – go for a walk with your dog, get a coffee from the coffee shop around the corner, put out the trash, print out that presentation, file those documents, meditate.
Two: focusing on one thing at a time boosts productivity and happiness.
Multi tasking might feel good because it feels like you’re getting more done, but the opposite is true. Our brains can’t deeply process multiple things at the same time, so instead of helping you to accomplish more things faster, multi tasking prevents you from doing anything well.
It really is that simple: if you want to achieve more and stop feeling exhausted, burnt out and stressed whilst doing so, schedule in regular breaks and stop multi tasking. This won’t get rid of your to-do list, but it will make you more productive and happier whilst ticking things off.
If all of this sounds well and good, but you struggle to implement it into your life, try the following simple things.
Set an alarm on your phone for every 60 – 90 minutes. When the alarm goes, you take a 5 – 10 minute break.
If you feel your brain is frazzled and nothing is coming out, take a break. Forcing it will only make you frustrated and you won’t get the quality work you’re aiming for.
If possible, add breaks to your diary like you would add meetings and workouts.
Commit to keeping one day of your week work-free and do things that energise you or help you to recharge your batteries.
Switch off notifications for email, messages and social media so you don’t get tempted to check them as soon as a notification pops up. You could also simply put your phone on silent and put it face down on the side. The key is that you decide when to check in on your emails, messages and social media.
At the start of a working day, set no more than 3 goals for the day and commit to doing them well instead of just ticking them off. This might mean you get less done, but the quality will improve which might result in less work in the future.
It is 100% up to you to create the best environment to get things done and achieve more – and often that’s by doing less and allowing yourself to take a break.