How To Build A To-Do List That Won’t Completely Burn You Out


Gloria Steinem said, “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”

So, if you are a planned, organized, cautious, and hardworking person, it may seem like you’ve got it all together. Your life will look pristine, and no one would guess there’s trouble brewing inside, because after all, you are so meticulous. So, how could anything go wrong? But let’s look beyond the façade.

Not long ago, this was me. I was a planner who always lived life on a checklist. I was always on top of things, and my life was organized and seamless with the mental list operating system I had in place in my head. It was a beautiful system, and it worked on autopilot. At the end of every day, I would sign off the old to-do list and have a new one incorporated for the day that lay ahead. I missed no schedule or opportunity; My life was chill, calm, and predictable. I was dependable, and everyone counted on me. You could call me a dynamite planning robot of sorts.

The benefit of a system like this is that nothing escapes you because you have an airtight plan and can control whatever curveball life throws at you.

The problem arises when such a system begins to take over your life. Soon enough, it captured my throne and sovereignty and became a tyrant. It started to bully and remind me of all the things I had not done. Slowly, I started overworking and doing more than required, leading to needless exhaustion with no time to nourish and nurture myself.

One day, as I lay exhausted, tired, and worn out, I reflected on how I wanted my life to pan out. I started by scribbling on a book a list of things I had no time for but really wanted to do. The list was basic and included resting, relaxing, having some me time, dressing up, and going for a massage. I started honoring my wishes on that list, albeit slowly, in small increments.

From that small insignificant list, my fun list evolved to reading, writing, going for walks, and other numerous things that nourished me. This change taught me that all these activities are essential because they help you to thrive. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Most of these are simple, but our conditioning to overwork makes us ignore and neglect it.

How do we correct this?

What helped me was to rethink the way I planned my day. Besides essential work, my daily checklist started including the things that nourished me. In the beginning, it was difficult because, like everyone else, I believed that productivity is key and found it wasteful to spend time on leisure and rest.

However, when I attend the  Bliss Study Group, headed by Artie Wu, founder of Preside Meditation, I became aware of all the things I held meaning to and loved. He posed a few questions for reflection that were not only insightful but also life-changing.

Some of them were:

1. If we were to live to 120 years of age, with no worry about money or other things, what would we spend our time doing? This question nudged me in the right direction and made me aware of all the things I loved, something I had forgotten in the busyness of everyday life.

2. He then invited us to dig deeper and find out what positive feelings these things evoked in us. It was insightful to understand why I did the things I loved and the feelings that they evoked in me.

3. Then we investigated the negative feelings each of these activities produced in us. It was the most significant aha moment for me because I was surprised to know that the things I loved had negative feelings. With time, I became aware that I started to loathe those activities when I did an excessive amount of it and neglected other areas. It helped me be mindful of the point at which actions turned from love to annoyance.

4. We also reflected on the things we did as children, the voluntary works we took part in or the things we turned to in boredom. We reflected on how it made us feel and how all the things we love fit in our larger scheme of life.

Being aware of the things I love and the significance they hold for me changed my perspective of life. I stopped leading a robotic life and started living one which is more authentic and fulfilling. I found that the first step is to make a list of the things I love. By doing so, I essentially created a treasure chest of the things I could come back to whenever I had nothing to turn to or was bored, stressed, or had spare time. I used different activities depending on what the situation warranted.

Benefits of having a checklist of the things you love:

It’s like a magic box of tricks: It can help when you feel dependant on others—pluck one from the list and use it to nourish yourself.

It makes you self-dependent: As you start nourishing yourself with things that light you up, you learn that no one person or thing can make us happy. It taught me to depend on myself for my happiness and peace of mind. Whenever I felt low, I could choose something from the list to perk me up.

It helps you be aware: It helps you be aware of the things you have neglected in your life—the things you need to revisit and start spending more time doing.

It allows you to honor yourself: It teaches you to honor your needs, spend time with yourself, and make time for your needs. It in turn builds a reservoir of strength and wisdom within you so that you can rely on and trust yourself.

It enriches you: It makes you look at things from a new perspective. It makes you open to new ideas.

It helps you build your connection circle: It helps you interact, connect, and socialize with people with similar interests. It’s a great conversation starter.

It makes you empathic: It helps you empathize with people who are not as fortunate as you in life as it makes you see things from different perspectives.

It makes you whole: It does this by making you look at life holistically and not be one-sided.

It helps you set boundaries and be assertive: When you spend time on yourself, you build your confidence to be assertive and set boundaries with others and don’t do other people’s unnecessary work.

It makes you feel fulfilled: You do things you love, and not out of fear or compulsion. It makes you the captain of your ship, and you decide your life, rather than letting people or situations take control over you.

It has a magnetic effect on people around you: Others get inspired to make changes.

Brian Tracy said, “The checklist is one of the most high-powered productivity tools ever discovered.” So, start by making one of the things you love. And when you get on with your checklist for the day, please incorporate those things in it. You will find it makes you not only productive, but also happier and fulfilled.