It’s normal to be busy these days, juggling work and studies, or both alongside your personal life. Despite feeling overwhelmed and complaining, we still struggle to break free from over commitment and the never ending to-do lists. This is because somewhere in that overwhelm, being busy does make us feel accomplished and productive. However, we can end up in a cycle, where we aren’t feeling truly satisfied. Our wellbeing and leisure become items on our to-do list, another task to be completed. These tasks can become more and more overwhelming when you burn out and can’t function at your best. That’s why it’s important we learn how to navigate being busy and limit how overwhelmed we feel.
How to Approach Tasks
First, work with a reduced to-do list. Often, we feel busier than we actually are because we’re prioritising the wrong things, to feel like we’re making good use of our time. This might actually be counterproductive. Are you filling your time with things you feel you should be doing? This might be organising your inbox, or cleaning the house instead of taking a real break from work. A smaller to-do list can limit those tasks and prioritise what needs to be done. Instead of feeling the need to check everything off a larger to-do list just to clear it. One way of doing this is the minimalist approach of the 3 item to-do list.
However, sometimes, there are busy times in our life that can’t be helped, upcoming deadlines, projects and life changes can disrupt our work-life balance. During these times, you might find you have no choice but to prioritise only those most essential tasks. A smaller to-do list can still help by reducing that sense of overwhelm but instead of a minimal to-do list, you can choose to switch between high and low energy tasks. The 1-3-5 method is perfect for this, helping to categorise tasks that are big, medium and small. You can do 1 big task, followed by a small task, and so on. This gives you space to recover, while still getting the essentials completed.
Once your to-do list is in order, it helps to shift your mindset. It’s normal to find each task tedious when you’ve got so much to-do over a long period of time. But trying to find some enjoyment in what you’re doing, giving meaning to those to-dos can put you in a better headspace while completing the task. For example, you may enjoy setting up your study space, or organising research for an assignment. Those little things during busy times can be incredibly helpful for maintaining momentum. Likewise, be mindful of letting rest, self-care and hobbies become another item on your list. Embrace and enjoy those activities that help you unwind and recharge.
How to Slow Down
It seems counterintuitive to slow down when you’ve got so much to-do. But it’s likely you’ll work more efficiently and with a clearer mind by doing so. You can slow down by implementing small bursts of mindfulness into your day. You don’t need to carve out extra time for this but replace those breaks spent scrolling through social media or replying to emails with a mindful habit. For busy times, this might be as simple as practising some deep breathing, or sitting with a warm drink by a window. Something that clears your mind and helps you to pause. If you have more time, you could go for a walk, mediate for 5-10 minutes, or converse with a friend. You can also approach tasks in a mindful way.
It’s common to multi-task, we can find ourselves switching between tabs and tasks without a second thought. Sometimes, that’s fine but to avoid that overwhelm when busy, uni-tasking is a better option. By completing one task at a time with your full attention, you’ll progress through your to-do list efficiently. You'll be able to take into account your natural work pace too. If you focus better in the mornings, you can choose to focus on one of your most important tasks at this time, leaving all other tasks until later. If you have to task switch, do this intentionally by setting aside the first task and moving onto the next. If you’re finding it hard to start a single task, you can use the 5 second rule to get started before you feel the need to switch.
How to Recharge
Finally, prioritise real leisure. You might be tempted to view those periods of scrolling through social media or Netflix while procrastinating as rest, but we haven’t really given ourselves a well-deserved and intentional break. Real leisure leaves you feeling recharged. After a long day, treating yourself to reading a novel, listening to a podcast, baking or having a meal with friends can help you to feel refreshed and improve your mood. Remember, leisure time doesn’t need to be productive, so if you want to watch Netflix and catch up on social media, that’s okay too! It’s all about being intentional, and doing those things that leave you feeling good. Try to switch off from work or your to-dos from the day for that short period of time. Even if you did procrastinate the day away, letting yourself switch off and enjoy something might be what you need to regain focus. This is especially important when you’re navigating a very busy period, catching up with your friends after a long week, or spending a quiet evening at home can be essential to avoiding overwhelm and burn out.