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Does your to-do list stress you out? This simple rule could help you regain control

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Lauren Geall
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To-do lists: this simple hack will help you keep your to-do list under control.

According to author and businesswoman Ariana Huffington, declaring an end to every working day is the best way to keep your to-do list in check and help you avoid burnout.

Crossing off the final task on your to-do list may be one of the most weirdly satisfying things out there, but few of us will get the chance to complete everything we plan to do every day of the week.

It’s a simple fact of life that, despite our wildest dreams that we’ll get everything done and be 100% productive everyday of the week, things will get in the way. And while pushing tasks to the next day and saving things for ‘another time’ might work in the short term, there comes a time when we need to come to terms with our limits.

According to businesswoman and author Ariana Huffington, there’s one easy step that can help us all to feel less stressed by our to-do lists: declaring an end of the day. Writing in a recent piece for The New York Times, Huffington highlights the importance of “being comfortable with incompletions”, and says “effectively prioritising” our tasks can help us to do just that. 

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“Once you’ve handled the day’s essential priorities, recognise that in any interesting job it’s almost impossible to do all you could have done in any one day,” she writes. “By taking the time to recharge, you’ll return to work the next day ready to seize opportunities.”

The benefits of such an approach are twofold: while short-term they’ll help you to feel less frustrated towards yourself and practise some important self-discipline, long-term they’ll help you to achieve a greater work-life balance, which can do wonders for our physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Keeping your to-do list under control with this simple method could actually help you to avoid burnout.
Keeping your to-do list under control with this simple method could actually help you to avoid burnout.

After all, giving ourselves the time to relax and recharge in the evening (instead of fretting about everything we haven’t done that day and panicking about everything we need to do the next day) is incredibly important. Without this vital period of rest, we’re putting ourselves at risk of developing burnout.

It may seem dramatic to attribute something as serious as burnout to how we manage our to-do lists, but the little pressures we place on ourselves throughout the working day (and into our personal lives) can really make a difference. In fact, they can even contribute to our involvement in ‘always on’ culture – a term used to describe our now constant availability via e-mail, even outside of the workplace. 

Without setting boundaries on our working day and giving ourselves an ‘end point’ after which we no longer deal with our to-do list, we’re only blurring the lines between work and life even further – and that’s never good news for our health.

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There’s also value in taking the time to curate your to-do list, in order to ensure you’re not overcommitting yourself on a daily basis. According to a study from leadership training company VitalSmarts, three in five people end up feeling frantic because they agree to accomplish more than they can physically fit in to their working day. 

By taking five minutes everyday to ensure your to-do list is realistic and achievable, you’ll be less likely to spend your evening stressing about all the things that didn’t get done. One way to do this, according to  David Maxfield and Justin Hale from VitalSmarts, is to do a “commitment audit”, where you write all your commitments down on one page and then decide which to-dos you will do, which you’ll decline, and which you’ll renegotiate.

So next time you find yourself in front of an impossibly long to-do list, or go to move five uncompleted tasks over to the next day’s list, stop yourself. Of course, we all have things that absolutely need to get done, but your productivity should never come at the expense of your mental and physical health.

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Lauren Geall

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