How to go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling accomplished


The other day I finally I figured out the source of much of my stress. It’s something so simple that you might roll your eyes at me when I tell you what it is. But it dawned on me while I was loading the dishwasher.

I was staring at the sink, annoyed that I couldn’t fit that one last cup and bowl into the dishwasher. If I could fit those in, and if I could find ten more minutes to get those pots cleaned, and if I could manage to wipe down the sink, I’d be done. Finished. Something would actually be accomplished around here.

But I had run out of time and space. So my task was unfinished. And I felt unaccomplished because I couldn’t check it off my list.

This small thing annoyed me and frustrated me more than it should have. Why? Why was this small, silly thing so bothersome to me?

I leaned against the sink, sucking down my iced coffee, looking at the dishes, and holding my list of to-dos in my other hand.

And then BOOM. It hit me.

My to-do list was sabotaging me. It was making me feel stressed out and like a big failure. And there was an easy fix I could implement right away.

How to go from overwhelmed to accomplished: Using lists the right way

But let me back up. I do have a system and it does (usually) work really well.

Truthfully, I have several to-do lists. I used to have one, huge, loooooong list that was immensely stressful to look at. I kept it on the computer in my iCloud notes so it would sync across my laptop, phone, and iPad. The syncing was nice, but the list was scary and stressful.

So I changed my system. I went back to using my trusty notebook and I broke my to-do list into several master lists: Home, Kids, Work, Blog, Personal. One on each page of the notebook.

On Sunday night of each week (ideally) I make a single, less overwhelming list of to-dos for the week. I’ve found this to be WAY less stressful for me, and keeps me out of my habit of endlessly going over each of the lists, wondering what I’m forgetting. If it’s not on the week’s list of to-dos, I’m not thinking about it. Done and done.


I’ve been doing two major things wrong:

1) I add things to my master lists that are, by nature, things that will never, ever, ever be done. Like doing laundry. Washing dishes. Yard maintenance. House cleaning. Putting away laundry. (And am I the only one who has baskets of clean laundry that sit around the house for weeks on end?)

2) I add things that are enormous projects that will never get done in one sitting. Like sorting through a year’s worth of school papers. Creating my media kit. Culling through and printing all our pictures from our 2013 Disney trip.

So what am I doing about it?

Making more lists, of course.

I have two new master lists: “Ongoing” and “Bigger Projects.”

And I’m being more realistic about what should go on those lists. For example, I wrote a blog post for another website and it took several sittings to finish it. I knew it would. So that post should have gone on the “bigger projects” list, because it wasn’t something I could get done in one day. Instead, it sat on my weekly list for several weeks in a row, stressing me out.

The Ongoing list? It’s got the tasks that need to eventually be attended to but will never be totally done: Laundry. Dishes. Yard work. House cleaning. It’s there just to remind me that those things exist. Maybe most people don’t need that reminder, but I do because my brain works like this.

If I really think I can accomplish a certain task related to one of those two new categories, I put it on my weekly list. Like “trim bush next to front door.” That’s a doable task. “Do yard work” isn’t.

So that’s how I’ve dialed down my stress and created a sense of control in my very out-of-control life.

What do you think? Are you a list maker? Do you like the idea of master lists and a weekly list? Would this kind of system work for you?

Note: This is a revised, previously-published post, so that’s why some comments are from a while ago.  🙂

photo credit: Hammonton Photography via photopin cc


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32 Replies to “How to go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling accomplished”

  1. I have to have my lists!

    But I don’t bother putting the things I have to do all the time on them, like laundry and dishes. Because those really will never be done, so I keep them off my list and focus it on the things that I can check off!

  2. I totally have lists and my husband actually recently showed me that the MacBook has an option to put sticky type notes on your desktop screen. I am not kidding when I say I am obsessed with this now and truly been helping with me stay organized here.

  3. I have an enormous binder of lists on notebook paper, written in Sharpie and I am forever revising them as I am always adding ridiculous things to the end of to-do lists for one day, instead of dividing them properly! Yes!

  4. I’ve been too depressed to write a blog post for almost five months now. Because I wanted to participate in the linkup today, I actually updated my blog (I could only muster 1.5 paragraphs, but it’s SOMETHING). Thank you for helping me accomplish something. 🙂

    BTW–“put dishes away” has been way too big a project for me, so I’ve been breaking it up like this: 1. Put away top rack, 2. put away bottom rack, and 3. Have already-anxiety-disordered 5-yo sort/put away silverware (it makes him feel good about himself).

    I hope you continue to feel better.

  5. Holy Moly! That’s a lot of lists. Do you have a list for all your lists? I like lists, but I only make them occasionally & only for things I need to do that day or during the week. Have you ever thought about ditching the one w/ the house work & yard work on it b/c those are perpetual things & if you didn’t see it on the list all the time maybe you wouldn’t stress out that you haven’t checked it off yet?

  6. I’m a ‘list-lover’ myself. However, for normal daily tasks, I choose not to rely on my lists for the same reasons you stated above. However when I know we’ll be having house guests and I really need to make the house look divine, then yes, I make my lists so I know I’ve covered every room and hidden all the mess! Haha! Lists are very helpful but I’ve also learned to balance it with a bit of flexibility. It’s the only way I can keep them and not drive myself insane 😉

  7. I ama big time list maker, but, I agree, that the lists themselves can stress me out. Sometimes, I take a similar approach. I make a list of all the things I WANT to get done. Then, I review stand circle the thing sI HAVE to get done that day. IF I do find extra time (Ha!), I go work on some of the want-to’s. And, no, my friend, you are NOT the only one who has baskets of clean laundry that sit around endlessly!

  8. Do you watch Modern Family? There is a line that cracks my husband and me up all the time (yeah, we quote it a lot), where Phil, the husband, says his wife “can make lists for days.” There is something so funny about the way he says it. Anyway, your post reminded me of that a little :). I only make grocery lists right now b/c I would never finish anything on a real to-do list at this point!

  9. For the longest time, I thought I wasn’t a list maker. I have no clue why I was in such denial about it lol. But now I too have “lists for days.” I got all Pinteresty and made a to do board with Today, Week, Month, and ? It worked for little while but it has been blank for awhile now. I use a notebook now. It’s a bit more random, which works because my days usually end up that way. Great advice in this post!

  10. Just yesterday, I was freaking out about the stuff I need to do, and the things that I had forgotten to do. I need lists in the worst way, but I don’t have any sort of organizational tool in the works right now. You have motivated me to get my to-dos in order. Yay!

  11. I've been sooooo overwhelmed lately! Desperately trying to dig myself out. Great post! FYI, I linked up to my home page instead of a specific post because I'm moving to and my permalinks are screwy right now. AND I entered MY name nstead of my blog name. See…told you I'm overwhelmed!! 😛

  12. I'm spread so thin I'm invisible, and the irony is… I wouldn't have it any other way! I'm actually writing a blog post that is a list of all the things I am committed to. You know, the ones that MUST be done! Who knows if it will ever be published…lol.

  13. I absolutely LOVE your idea about the lists!!!!! I used to categorize mine too- one “big to do list”- for big projects and one medial list for stupid chores etc that need to get done that DAY. Oh, how overwhelming these lists can be!!! I love yours- because you are SO RIGHT about stressing and not feeling like you accomplished anything! It’s never ending… never ending!

    I am going to use your system. Thank you for sharing!!! And I am so excited to start linking up with this awesome link up, because honesty is a beautiful thing. And Lord knows all my posts are HONEST!! Going to look for a good one to add now…


  14. I get ridiculously mad at the tasks that will never be done and wonder when I will stop being surprised that it’s time to do laundry again. It has helped tremendously to plan to do it on Thursday, so I don’t have to think about it all the time. I appreciate the simplicity of putting an ‘ongoing’ note next to it on paper or in my brain. Every little bit helps, since I’m so easily driven crazy.

  15. JD, I really needed to read this this morning. I have been going around feeling sick from the weight of my to-do lists. It’s seriously killing my summer. Thanks for this perspective–and smart suggestion!

  16. isn't it funny, the things that become our task masters! I love lists, generally. And often add stuff to my list AFTER it's finished, just so I can feel like I've accomplished something. As if I cannot have permission to feel accomplished if the item is not on a list and subsequently checked off. It's silly what we do to ourselves, but in the end, it IS what we do! I don't think I'll ever let go of lists, but I love your new system. I often re-evaluate mine and whatever works!!!

  17. OMG that's what I do.. Lists? Holy cow I am the queen of lists.. However, I found that I was rewriting the lists.. and I had so many.. So I stopped writing lists altogether.. Now I'm lost.. I have always been a list maker.. Got it from my mom.. But she didn't make so many! Lists of projects I'd like to do (crochet) lists for yarn I'd like to try, to do lists, to repair lists, to buy lists… So as I said I stopped altogether and I feel out of control

  18. Oh and by the way I have 5 baskets of clean clothes downstairs in the basement where the washer and dryer are.. (At least there folded and separated into specific baskets) been that way since I don't know when

  19. Lists, lists, lists, and more lists. I have a list of my other lists. Not joking. I have that. It's an Excel file called "Master List" but it's not the list that sits alongside my "ongoing" list. It's just a list of my other lists. Like Colleen, I'm afraid that letting go of the lists would leave me feeling completely lost. I'm fully aware of how totally nuts it is!

  20. when you've moved to a foreign country and have five children and get to be at least a decade older than you are you wont even be able to get to make a 'list'. For years and years. I kid thee not!
    Finally coming up for air now and my youngest is 10 and my eldest is going to be 21!!!
    It will get easier in many respects and it will be different.
    There apparently are just so so many of us. Somehow I find that comforting and feel more understood.
    It's all good.

  21. Its always a winner whenever we have huge task d they are broken down to weekly and even small to a day. It always important that we get shit done if we want to progress in this world. I have anxiety and a system that is stress free is awesome. Keep doing your thing!

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