You know that feeling of being in a tornado, where you have so much going on and it seems like everyone and everything needs something from you—your time, your knowledge, your skills? That overwhelming feeling is pervasive and real, and while it’s often a sign of a productive, engaged person, it can also be a bit of a slog to get out of when you feel entirely mired in the crazy.
Often, getting organized and finding a way to arrange your priorities can help make everything feel a little more manageable. When all of the disparate to-dos are floating around in the ether, they feel bigger, more chaotic and often more insurmountable. Transfer those to paper—or an electronic list—and they become things that can be tackled one at a time (and often, fewer in number than you might have thought when they were just… thoughts).
Plus, working with lists offers more than just a practical solution to keeping things in order: It can actually make you feel better. There’s a real psychological benefit to making a list and checking things off. The very act itself can create a rush of dopamine, the brain’s happiness chemical. Just like chocolate or wine or being around people you love, the act of crushing it releases a hit of dopamine, causing us to feel content (and in this case, hopefully more likely to continue to engage in the happiness-causing behavior). That means that you’re likely to continue going after the feeling of triumph and productivity, meaning you’ll keep feeling on top of your game and like you’re doing quite well at adulting (even if the thing you’re checking off is “Get up/brush teeth”).
If you need some inspiration, here are some lists to make when you’re feeling just a little bit underwater. We’ve divided them into “To-Do Lists” and “Feel-Good Lists”. Feel free to mix and match depending on your current dilemma or what would feel most helpful.
A shopping list, divided into categories
If your everything-to-do list feels endless, it may have something to do with the disparate pieces of “we need toilet paper” and “replace running shoes” circulating in your brain. Write down your shopping lists by dividing items in different categories like groceries, household, things for travel, things for your sport of choice, stuff for the dog, clothing and gifts. When it’s not one big soup of objects, it can be a lot easier to manage.
Meal planning ideas
Reduce some of the stress of eating well and on a budget by making a meal plan for the week ahead, or at the very least, a list of easy-to-throw-together meals to have handy for reference, lest you spend an uninspired hour staring into the fridge trying to figure out what to make.
A well-divided workplace or household to-do list
All of those to-dos, little and large, can feel very overwhelming if they’re all on one big list together. Break them down by priority level and assign yourself a specific day to get them done. Break larger projects into smaller tasks and assign these to specific days and lump similar tasks together for efficiency.
Phone calls to make, emails to send, letters to write
Pretty straightforward: Make three columns and an easy-to-check-off list of who you need to call, who you need to email and to whom you should toss a card or letter in the mail.
Household renovation or repair list
What’s more satisfying than finally finishing that project around the house? Putting it on a list. Write down everything at home that needs to be done, from sweeping to dusting to repainting a room to decluttering the basement.
Bills to pay with amounts and due dates
Let’s be real: Money can be stressful. Keep your finances and your credit in order by pre-organizing your bill due dates along with the approximate amount you expect to pay for each. As a bonus, this is a helpful way to keep on top of your budget and ensure your bank account is adequately topped up when it comes time to pay each bill.
What are your goals for this week, this month, this year, the next five years? What are you doing to move toward them and what is in your way? Think about resources, connections or questions that could help you in your quests and consider paring away activities that are keeping you from reaching your goals. When it comes to reaching a purposeful, focused goal, sometimes less is more.
Things that are causing you stress
It’s okay to own that you have a lot going on, and yes, you’re stressed out by it. Make a list of everything that is swirling around in your brain—tough conversations to have, worry, regret, anxiety. Write it down. Make space for it. Know that you will feel better as you chip away at it all. And feel free to let go of anything you can acknowledge is just on that list because you get some satisfaction from worrying about it. (You’re not alone—just give yourself permission to give it up and feel 100% better.)
Things you are grateful for today, this week, this month
Big or small, there is something very powerful about the act of noting your gratitude. Keeping track of these little rays of sunshine can help you notice more things to be grateful for and can open up new opportunities to feel content, calm and inspired.
Eight feelings you would like to feel most often
How do you want to feel today? How do you want to feel at work? What are the underlying guiding emotions you would like to form the basis of your life? Pick a few that speak to you—writing them down can help you position yourself and make choices in ways that will invite more of those good feelings into your life. (We’re digging CONFIDENT, INSPIRED, CREATIVE and GROUNDED lately.)
Mantras to draw on when you’re feeling down, overwhelmed or uninspired
This is sort of a preventive mental health piece, as you can refer to this list when you need some grounding in crazy times. Choose short phrases or words that bring you to a place of calm. Keep this list handy and refer to it when you need a reminder to be present, focused and content.
Top five happiest memories
Acknowledge some lighter times by making a quick list of your happiest memories to date.
10 reasons you are a [insert adjective of choice]
Whether you want to be a badass lady, an excellent mom, a word ninja or a unicorn, make a list of your current qualities that confirm you are indeed [that thing] to serve as a reminder when you need it. The act of writing it down is affirming all in itself.
Things you can do to feel calm
Again, preemptive mental health. A walk, a phone call, some tea, buying some cute stickers, writing a postcard, lying under a tree… whatever will help bring you a bit of calm should go on this list. Use this as a reference when you want a quick hit of zen in the middle of the tornado.
Books you intend to read
Wishing for a quieter time (or in need of a kick in the butt to get that work project finished)? A list of the books you’ll read (or shows you’ll watch or places you’ll visit) can be a good motivator to keep pushing through the crazy to the (hopefully) down time on the other side.
Household decorating wishlist
Here’s where making a list alongside your Pinterest account might be handy. Make a list of the things you’d like to do to make your home more livable, cozy, adult, more YOU. Pictures are encouraged, particularly in the form of a vision board.
Dream vacation wishlist
Nothing says contentment like planning for a far-off vacation. Be specific about where you’ll go, the time of year and what you’ll do there. Sigh.
Gift ideas for [insert name]
Mom? Bro? Husband? BFF? This can be a great tool if you tend to get overwhelmed in the week before someone’s birthday and you’re totally short on ideas for what to get them. Start this list well in advance and add to it as the ideas come to you… or as the overwhelm sinks in. It can be like a living repository of ideas you can act on.
Top 10 favorite hilarious sitcom quotes
Give yourself a little giggle and a trip down memory lane by listing moments from your favorite shows that always help you feel a little sillier. Bonus points if you laugh out loud while you write them down.
Things that inspire you or make you happy
People, places, ideas, music, projects… whatever it is that makes you feel alive and driven to do great things, write them down. Check in with this list when you need a boost. While just checking in with the list can be valuable, you may also want to take action and seek these things IRL to get a real dose of inspiration.
Why not give it a try? You just need some paper and a pen (or a fancy marker or a crayon or whatever brings you joy). You can even do this on your phone if you prefer, but we recommend the tactile experience of putting your hands on a physical list. It can help with the experience of owning your tasks or feelings and staying committed to whatever is on there.