By Miles Burke

Recollect and Relax

By Miles Burke

A few days ago, I was a bundle of stress. See, I’m about to take a trip overseas which means I had two weeks worth of work to plan and do, as well as articles to write, clients to contact, work to delegate, as well as home duties and more.

It started feeling overwhelming – I had so much to do, where should I start? I was trying to cross the tasks off in my head as I went, and it felt each time I managed to complete one thing, two more reared their heads.

I stopped and wrote a list. A really simple, scribbled on a blank sheet, to do list. It took me five minutes, and I was just about completely relaxed at the end of it. I’ve written about to do lists before, however I don’t believe I have really encountered that moment of clarity on why a to do list is great besides knowing what you need to do.


Now, I know a good to do list helps you not only concentrate but relax at the same time. See, I ended up with quite a long list – 30 or 40 items, although many were quite small in time requirements.

I wrote in brackets next to each task how much time I needed to give myself, so the list looked a little bit like:

Call Bill at Company about proposal (10 mins)
Email forms back to bank (15 mins)
Send email newsletter copy over to Sarah (10 mins)
Write up proposal on new project (1 hour)
Get travel adaptor (20 mins)
Buy travel insurance (30 mins)

It was easy for me to see, reviewing this list that there was about 30 hours of allocated time. Given I had at least eight days, including the weekend, I could easily get through of it before I left. That sense of burden lifting off me was great, and also reassuring; I felt I suddenly had more energy to get these tasks done.

The next time you’re feeling under enormous pressure, take five minutes and write a list. Before you know it, that mountain of work you’ll never get through is a manageable list of tasks, and you get a smile back on your face.

Try it – it’s a fantastic five-minute investment!

  • Machiel Molenaar

    Sounds a lot like what David Allen advices you to do in Getting Things Done. A mind like water.

  • Adrian Lock

    I’ve been doing this exact same thing for a while now and found it helps to keep you focused and achieve more in your day.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve been using a paper planner and writing to-do lists on scrap pages and post-its for years. I’ve tried to switch to digital note takers and calendars twice, but have found them wanting.

    Writing my thoughts on paper allows me to unload the clutter from my brain onto small, manageable pieces of a simple and disposable medium. The act of writing a task onto something I know I will discard once the task is through, is quite therapeutic. It helps my mind relinquish stress-inducing thoughts of errands and replace them with something new (hopefully something less encumbering).

    I repeat this process (write down list, complete tasks, discard list), until I have exhausted my mind’s supply of to-dos, freeing up space to explore less urgent (and usually more relaxing) thoughts and activities. Until a digital solution can provide me with the same relief and satisfaction, I’ll continue using good ol’ paper.

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