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3 Solutions for Treating To Do List Anxieties

By | 7 comments

long lists

You might have experienced this. You started using to do lists and life was great. Then as time went by, you happily start adding more things to your to do lists but it reached a point where your list so long it gives you anxiety. What happened?

This is a really common problem. Especially when you first start learning how to capture thoughts and put them in your inbox. If you don’t empty your inbox on a regular basis, obviously this list becomes too long up to the point where it might seem like a mountain to climb to get it back to zero.

Another list that has the same issue is the someday / maybe list – popularized by the Getting Things Done methodology. Each day we go through dozens of thoughts of things we could possibly do in the future. Maybe you want to visit the Bahamas, climb Mount Everest or start that side business you’ve always wanted. All these things, among many others, can be stored in your someday / maybe list. But, that list can also reach a point where it becomes too long when you don’t maintain it on a regular basis.

Obviously you shouldn’t get any form of anxiety when you look at your list. If it does then there is a problem. Here are some signs to look for if you think your list is giving you some a form of anxiety:

  • You procrastinate looking at your list because you know there is a lot to do.
  • You keep on dumping thoughts on your list but you refuse to clear it within a reasonable timeframe.
  • You know clearing your inbox will take up a lot of time so you would rather do something else instead.
  • Your list has more than 25 items.

If you can recognize any of these then your list is overloaded. I do have to say that the number 25 is a picked guesstimate but from my experience it’s fairly accurate.

What to do about it

Fortunately addressing your overloaded list is an easy thing to do. Here are three things you can do.

1. Empty your inbox on a regular basis. It’s important to regularly clear your lists – especially your inbox. Make it a priority to clear your inbox – set a fixed time to clear your inbox each day. For example, each day at 5pm you will take out ten minutes to clear your inbox.

2. Review on a regular basis. The best way to keep your lists healthy is to maintain them on a regular basis. A review once a week is more than enough for most lists. Aaron likes to do them on Fridays whereas I like to do them on Sundays.

3. Delete anything older than three months. This one can be a tough thing to do but sometimes it is necessary. This goes especially for the someday / maybe list. I’m suggesting here to delete anything older than three months, but you might have to adjust this number for yourself. The basic idea behind is that the fewer choices you have, the better decision you will make and the faster you will act. My mindset behind it as well is that if something is truly important, it will come back on my list one way or another. Experience tells me that this is true.

Do you have list anxiety or do you have any other tips for addressing this? We would love to hear it. Please leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Photo by puuikibeach.

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Posted by Jimmy  | October 3, 2012 at 12:09PM | Reply

I have almost mastered the first one. I created folders to categorize my emails and created multiple email addresses to separate the ones I receive from work and personal contacts.

It also helps if you ask the assistance of someone close to you, just to help clear out some items on the list. Tried this for months and it really worked well for me.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 4, 2012 at 10:18PM

That’s good advice Jimmy. I also agree that separating work emails from personal is HUGE. It makes a big difference. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Posted by Coach Suzanne  | March 28, 2012 at 8:39PM | Reply

Hi Thanh, I ‘ve written you a couple times before via email. I like this post, as I do have anxiety, but without my lists I think I’d have even more! I’ve recently fully switched over to Mac/iPad/iPhone and one of the reasons on some level was to give Omnifocus a try (yes, an expensive experiment, lol).

So far, I really like it as it allows me ot follow the GTD system as closely as I like with one exception…I clear my inbox and review weekly…but still feel lost on a day to day item unless I”m doing things taht are “due” or “overdue”. If I don’t give something a due date, it’s likley I’ll forget it. or if I do give it a due date, I may not see it until the day before it’s due, causing great anxiety if my schedule that day is full for example.

Any suggestions about this? I’m still trying to sort it all out…

Posted by Thanh Pham  | March 30, 2012 at 7:34AM

Haha I applaud the experiment. It seems like to me that you’re very unclear with your (long-term) goals and that you are fire fighting each day.

Make sure to review your calendar each day so that all due items are on your radar. On top of that, I would try to make sure that you know what you want to achieve (go for outcomes). Once you have an idea, that’s when you won’t lose sight of what’s important and what’s not.

Before you start your day – have an idea what you want to achieve. Work on that and look at your calendar for any items you might have to deal with as well. I hope this helps!

Posted by Haim from IQTELL  | March 27, 2012 at 7:23AM | Reply

David Allen says time and again, it must be a trusted system or else nothing it won’t work…what’s the use of getting things out of your head if they come back to haunt you?

Loved the post! :)

Posted by Mark Pearson  | March 27, 2012 at 5:50AM | Reply

Hey AE guys-
When you mention to keep the list under 25 does that include the tasks in your projects or just in your inbox?

If so, my list is HUGE then. So I am completely suffering from anxiety and thus creates procrastination. I am working on implementing a solid review strategy and trying to figure out when in my week to implement it.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | March 27, 2012 at 10:41AM

Hey Mark that includes projects as well. You might want to break down your project into multiple projects. There are exceptions of course.

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