How to master your to-do list and avoid overwhelm

Published by Hayley Gillard on

Are you familiar with that horrible feeling of not knowing where to start because you just have SO much to do?

I’m willing to bet we can all relate to this. I’ve got two great techniques to help you overcome this. They work equally well when you apply them to work life or home life; or a mixture of both.

Start with stop!

But before we get into the techniques I want you to STOP! Consciously stop yourself in your tracks – say “stop” out loud to yourself if that helps.

Now get EVERYTHING out of your head. Make a list of EVERY SINGLE THING that is bothering you. Get it out on paper and take away the need for it to stay sitting in your brain. Whether you choose to free write or put it in a list, you’ll now be able to see on paper what it is that’s been making you feel like you can’t cope.

By the way, if you notice some negative self-talk creep in when you go through this process have a read of some other blogs that I’ve written to help with this:

How to get perspective on a business challenge

Think like a CEO

The impact of negative language on your confidence.

Once it’s out of your head and physically written down you can see exactly what’s led you to feel overwhelmed and start to organise and prioritise that list. This is about being proactive and putting you back in control.


The three Ds

This first technique is great for when you feel overwhelmed, like you’re not coping, or if you have an impossible number of things to achieve. You can apply it to the list that you create when you stop and empty your head.

The 3 Ds stand for Ditch, Delegate and Do.

First work out what you can DITCH. What can you get rid of completely? There will be things that are flying around your head that you’ll realise, once they’re on paper, you don’t actually need to do.

Next, think about which of the things on your list you can DELEGATE. What can you get your business partner / colleague / team member / family / friends to do?

Finally, decide what you can easily DO right now. Focus on what you can do that will take under 5 minutes to complete, so you can take those off your list. I’m talking about those small tasks like booking an appointment or paying a bill online, which can feel so much bigger when there are lots of them all built up.

Then, with whatever you have left on your list that’s not been covered by the 3 Ds, prioritise them so that you know which are most important and where to start. I’ve got one client who sets herself a to-do list and if it hasn’t been done by the end of the week then she realises it’s not a high priority and the whole thing goes in the bin! Extreme maybe, but very effective!


The three MITs 

The second technique is brilliant for when you’re busy and you want to get things done without tipping over into feeling overwhelmed. MIT stands for Most Important Tasks. I’ve coached clients who use this technique daily and swear by it. This is a technique taught to me by Claire Mitchell, a mentor I had right at the beginning of my business journey.

Write down the three most important things that you need to do either the night before or first thing (depending on how organised you are!). There’s no flexibility here; these are the things that you absolutely HAVE to get done the next day. Deliberately keep the list to three – any more and it becomes overwhelming. Make sure they are specific and small enough to be achievable. Things like “send that email” or “make that phone call”. The idea is that as long you can get those three things done you will feel ok to take a break if you’re not feeling creative or finish early, or whatever it is that will make your day balanced and work best for you.

Ultimately this is where you should aim to get to on a daily basis because you will be proactively preventing overwhelm – and your business and your self-belief will both benefit. But until you manage to get to that point just remember: motivation comes from taking action!


Choose the Three Ds or the Three MITs according to which one fits best with how overwhelmed you feel right now. Give the technique a try and set a reminder in your calendar to review how it’s gone this time a week from now. If, in a week, you feel like the technique has made a difference then think about how you can build it in to your business routine. What do you think? Have you got another technique you use? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments and let’s help each other out.


If you want more hints and tips like this I would love to invite you to come and join me in Self-Belief School. It’s a private free community on Facebook where like-minded female entrepreneurs like you are hanging out, asking questions, supporting each other. I’m in there almost every day, giving hints and tips like this.

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