The Power of Lists to Deal with Stress

I might have blogged about this in the past, but certainly not in the last few years (at least, not that I could find in a quick search on my blog). Either which way, it’s on my mind at the moment, so that’s what you’re getting.

Sometimes in my life I’m busier than at others. I try to avoid this by planning things out well in advance, and spreading the load via effective goals, so that life doesn’t just overwhelm me. But let’s face it: life is life. There are going to be times when it just gets busier than others. It can get to the point where I feel like I’m drowning in tasks that are never going to get done, and I start worrying about every seeing daylight again.

For those times, I make lists.

Lots of lists. Daily lists. Weekly lists. But I always start in the same place: I make a list of everything I have to do. Everything. Right down to eating breakfast or brushing my teeth. No task is too small to make it on the list. (I even put “Make a list” on the list.) The goal is to dump all my stress from my brain (where it’s making me panic and hyperventilate) and down on paper where my brain can look at it and process it better. So all of it goes down.

Often, that act alone helps me cope, because sometimes seeing it on paper, it doesn’t look so bad. Of course, sometimes it looks even worse than I thought it would. (The last week or two have felt like that right now.)

But that’s where it’s handy that I’ve put everything down on the list. Sure, it seems overwhelming. But I can already cross one thing off: making the list. And I can barrel through a few other things on there pretty quickly as well. Little things that don’t take longer than a few minutes to do. I tear through the easy things, and then that usually helps me feel like I’m making progress. Like being “finished” isn’t just an abstract thought.

Of course, there are other items on that list that are going to be much much more difficult to get rid of. Time-intensive beasts that will dominate my life if I let them. So I look at them and think about how I can break them down into smaller goals. Bite-sized pieces that I can deal with. That might mean instead of “finish my novel” I put “write 1 hour a day.” Or maybe “declutter for 15 minutes.” I take big things and turn them into small things, and then when I finish that small thing for a day, I check it off the list.

Sure, the big thing isn’t done, but it’s done for today, and that’s what really matters. Because for me to stay sane, I know I need time to relax and recuperate. To enjoy life some. That’s just as important as everything else. (I’ll even add the fun things I want to do on my list. I’m not kidding about loving lists.)

I’ll write a new list every day. List all the things I want to get done on it, and then churn through them. They all lead toward finishing the big things on my bigger list. Everything’s connected.

And that’s my biggest secret to staying sane and getting things done that I have. Bite-size goals and lists. It’s gotten me through three children, a career, three degrees, fifteen novels, and multiple construction projects. It might not work for everyone, but it works wonders for me.

I hope it comes in handy for some of you.

And with that, I have to go cross off “write blog post” from today’s list.

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