Too much to do? What to do when you’re drowning in obligations, errands and stress – part 1

Say “NO” much, MUCH more often

6 June, 2018

Did you ever feel like your to-do list had no end and no matter what you did, there was still too much to do and no light at the end of the tunnel?

I have felt like that for most of my life.

And for a while now (read: 2-3 years) I have been determined to crush my to-do list and create that feeling of freedom in my “free time”. (I’m putting air quotes here, because I had no free time. There was work, and there was my list of errands and obligations. And nothing in between.)

Full disclosure: I am not done yet. My list still has a few bigger items that I’m getting through AND from time to time I still feel overwhelmed. Very overwhelmed. BUT, I want to share what worked for me so far, because I am in a MUCH better place than I was a few years ago.

So if you’re in that place where things seem to just pop up unexpectedly quicker than you can tick them off and you generally feel like you have too much to do, then I’d like to share a few strategies that worked for me.

(And as I was writing this post, it turned out that I have A LOT to contribute on this subject and so I decided to walk you through the first half of strategies in this post, and then through the rest, in the next one.)


Take from this list what resonates the most and just get started – your freedom awaits:


1. Say “NO” much, MUCH more often.

Let’s start at the beginning. You have too much to do because you agreed to do those things (either agreed in relation to promising something to others, OR just agreed with yourself – by allowing yourself to put the tasks ON the to-do list).

This is the cause of the issue, which means that if you don’t learn to say “no” more often and take on less tasks, no matter what crazy productivity techniques you’ll use, you’re always going to be screwed.

Look through your list: did you absolutely HAVE TO take all of that on? Was there no one else who could do it? Are you actually going to enjoy even 50% of those tasks, or is it just a list of “must-do’s” that are eating away your life without giving you anything resembling satisfaction and/or joy?

Next time you’re about to say yes to something, run it through those internal questions. Practice saying “NO” to more things – you can start with smallest of tasks. And if you feel you don’t know how to decide what to say yes/no to, I’ve tackled this issues specifically in more detail in this article.


2. Meditate/Relax daily

This is a game-changer for your stress.

There is an old Zen saying:

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.

And I think that pretty much sums up what you gotta do next.

There is plenty of apps that can help you: they have meditation music, guided meditations/relaxations and, maybe most importantly, they can help you track how often you’re meditating.

Now I do about 20 min every day. But I could not bring myself to do this regularly until I got an app that helped me see, visually, how I’m doing. And that motivated me to keep going and do my best not to skip any days.

On most days, I meditate in the morning before starting my day. I use MindHero app (from App Store), which allows me to choose a background track and a guided meditation (giving me countless options of what I’m listening to day after day). Once you have some data in there, it’ll look like this:

It lets me track my progress both in terms of days when I did (or didn’t) meditate, but also after each session you get to rate your experience (the “Zen moments”), so that over time you can track how well you were able to relax and see the progress of that too.

If you’re not meditating regularly yet, then find an app that will help you with that and set a daily reminder on your phone. Commit to 20min a day and be patient. The results WILL build over time and this WILL help you with your stress AND with seeing what matters (and therefore choosing what to say “no” to when you feel like you have too much to do).


3. Say NO some more and cross off your list what doesn’t need to be there

Once you stop saying yes to everything and calm your mind a bit with meditation (I’d say that it’s best to practice both meditation and saying NO more often before moving to this task), it’s time to go back to your to-do list and cross off some things.

Cross off whatever has been there for a while without you tackling it (unless it’s something really important – but if it is, think about why you haven’t prioritised it yet?)
Cross off whatever is there because it “would be nice to do it” (but it doesn’t have to happen – either yet, or at all).
Cross off whatever you don’t have to take action on RIGHT NOW (If a task is bigger and ongoing, write down only the first steps that you CAN action right now. E.g. if you’re buying a house, you can write down that you should set up an appointment with mortgage advisor, but cross off your list that you’ll have to renovate that place once you own it. Or anything that’s a “further-down-the-line” task. If it’s important, you won’t forget it, I promise. Makes sense? Great. Go through your list and start crossing things off now.)
Create an “ideas” list if you have to (as a temporary measure, if you’re not ready to let go of some tasks quite yet, you can put a few things there – but this is no dumping ground! You WILL need to revisit it in a few weeks to cross off more tasks later).
Think about what can you delegate? (E.g. Ask your partner/friend/family member to do it.)
What can you automate? (E.g. Get an Amazon subscription for products that you need regularly, so that you don’t have to think about it.)
What can you systematise? (E.g. Decide how often something needs to be done and what day is the best for doing it and set up a recurring phone reminder for when to do those things. For example, my phone/calendar reminders keep me on track with things like laundry, changing water filters, changing toothbrushes, changing sheets, etc.)

This way you’ll make your to-do list smaller and won’t let the tasks pile up, which is what causes the overwhelm (when your list is so long it makes you feel like it’s impossible).


4. Ask for help (and say YES if someone offers to help)

We don’t have to do everything by ourselves. Look at everything you’re doing in the week. What can you cut out (temporarily, even) to buy yourself more time?

(And if you don’t know where your time is going, you’ll need to track that for a week first – I use my planner, Flocus, to show me where I’ve spent my time the past week – I just add ALL my tasks there and block off time for both work and personal stuff – that way later I see at a glance where my time went).

And now, here is the important part: if you don’t have to do everything by yourself (truth), then you have to be ok with asking for and accepting help (also truth).

At work: ask for help.

At home: ask for help.

If you talk to someone close to you about what is going on with you and they offer to help – ACCEPT THAT HELP. (Do not dismiss it with something like “aaah, it’s alright, I’ve got it”.)

To summarise, the two must-take steps are:
1. Ask for help.
2. Accept that help.

It is nowhere as easy as those words make it sound, I know. But most of us could learn to communicate those type of needs better.

We all have our strengths and we have weaker sides too, and asking for help can make sure that you do what you need to be doing, while someone else can help you with where you don’t have to be involved. And if you do it right, someone will get a chance to use their strengths to contribute.


What next if I still have too much to do?

Those are the first four strategies that I’ve implemented a while ago and that helped me A LOT. In the second part of this article I’m talking about the next level of strategies you can implement to add more white space into your schedule and lead an overwhelm-free life. Click here to open part 2 right now.

But before you go, tell me in the comments below: which of the ideas above resonated the most with you right now? OR, do you have some other strategies for dealing with that feeling like there’s just too much to do? Leave a comment below.

And if you found this article helpful, share it with your friends with one of the social media buttons on this page. I’ll be very grateful and good karma will be on the way ;)

Stay grounded (as much as possible! <3),


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  1. Leslie Stompor says:

    Yes, my to-do list is filled with might-want and could-be-nice items — and that’s at WORK! Time to get them OFF the list!!

    • Kat Bern says:

      YEEEES! (I literally shouted that our loud when I read your comment :))

      Doing a happy dance for you, Leslie, for how much lighter it will feel once you do it!

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