If like me, you’re someone who needs to feel like the to-do list is done before they can take a break, read on. If however, you’re someone who can happily relax on the sofa and watch TV with a pile of washing up in the sink and emails left unanswered this one probably isn’t relevant to you.

I often think; “I’ll stop once I’ve done X” or “after I finish Y then I’ll be able to properly relax”. I’ve always believed that I can’t relax until the to-do list is done. I always got frustrated by people who sit on their backsides doing “nothing” while there are chores to be done. But having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I learnt the hard way that people who know how to relax before the to-do list is done, actually have it right. My approach wasn’t sustainable and certainly wasn’t healthy.

Now, as my fiancé will tell you, I’m still not great when it comes to prioritising relaxation and rest when I think there are things I should be doing, but I’m getting better. So, this blog post is as much a reminder for me as it is some helpful suggestions for you – I hope!

Master your to-do list

1. Have different levels of to-do list. I used to have one to-do list which would have everything on it. Now I separate my to-do lists out. I have a monthly “to-do dump” which is where I note down everything I want or need to remember. Then I have a daily to-do list where I write all the small things from dog walks to appointments for that day so I can be realistic about what I can do in a day (see point 2). This means that when I look at my daily to-do list it feel less overwhelming because I can see just what has to be done that day. I try to plan my to-do lists at the start of each week so I can see days where I have more/less capacity and then I’ll look at my monthly task list and add in bits on the days I have less to do. It also helps me plan our weekly menu – if I’ve got a busy day I pick something easy if I’ve got more time I might use that day to do some batch cooking.

2. Be realistic and set times against your to-dos. I never used to do this but it’s made such a difference. Next, to a to-do item, I note how long I think it will take. I generally overestimate as this lets me give myself a gold start when I do it quicker! It also means that you can see at a glance if what you have on your to-do list is realistic. If it’s not, try to shift a few items to another day. Planning it out by week (as mentioned in point 1) should help with this.

3. Add fun and restful activities to your to-do list. These activities will be different for everyone, but by adding it to your list it increases the likelihood of it actually getting done! If you fill your hours of a day with mundane and work-related to-dos you’re never going to have time to rest and relax. By adding them to your to-do list when you sit down to look at what you’ve got to do that day you will be mentally scheduling in time to rest and relax – I hope!

4. Keep a note of your accomplishments as well. I add things I have accomplished each day which weren’t on my to-do list. This means I can understand and accept why some of the things on the list might not have got done!

Accept reality

5. When you die, the to-do list won’t be finished. I know it’s morbid, but the reality is there will never be a time when everything on your to-do list is done.  So many of us live our lives thinking “when the to-do list is done then I will be calm/relaxed/happy/insert appropriate words here”. You will never get everything done. As soon as you check one thing off, another gets added. This is why having different to-do lists (see point 1) will help you feel less overwhelmed. This way you’re only trying to achieve

6. Consider the real consequence. The reality is, most things on the to-do list are not as important as our ego makes us think. If something doesn’t get done, it probably won’t have a huge impact in the short term. As long as you tell others you haven’t done something (if it impacts other people), most people will understand. Waiting a day or two usually won’t be a big drama.

7. Remember the bigger picture. Usually saying yes to one thing means you will have to say no to something else. Think of the bigger picture and what is more important for you long term. Be selective about the things you add to your to-do list.

8. Stopping can help you move forward. I find that when I’m busy and overwhelmed stopping, even for 10-minutes to meditate, usually makes me feel better. And I’m more productive than if I had powered on through. It’s so important that we are kind to ourselves and our bodies. They will thank us for it in the end.

Do you have any tips to help yourself relax when you haven’t finished your to-do list? Share them in the comments below to help inspire me and others. Now this blog is ticked off my list, it’s time to sit in the garden and read.

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