I Started Replacing My To-Do List With Things I'm Grateful For, and It Eased My Stress

I've always been one of those people who loaded too much on my own plate. I said yes when I should have said no and took on far more projects than I could actually squeeze into a day. For a few years, I tried everything from obsessing over my planner to skimping on sleep in order to get in more work — and by the end, I was struggling, both mentally and physically.

I knew I needed to change my habits to feel happier and healthier. I tried putting everything I needed to do on paper at the end of the day (a mind-dump, if you will), but then I just went to bed unable to sleep. Each list felt unending, because there was always more more more to do. It felt like there was no solution, no life equivalent of "inbox zero" in sight.

I've always loved lists, though, and I really do believe that they help me. So I decided how I used those lists needed to change. Instead of focusing strictly on to-dos, I needed to find a place for the positive.

To do this, I decided to give myself one mind-dump per week, when I could list any possible thing that needed to be written down. After some trial and error, I landed on Friday nights, which allows me to reflect on the week I've had. Once the list is finished, I put it away and don't allow myself to look at it again. I can still loosely remember what was on it in the days ahead, but this prevents me from adding more and more items, which would only cause me to feel more stressed. Then, every other day of the week, I make a list of 20 items in the following buckets:

  • 10 to-dos: Let's be honest, there's always something to do. But limiting myself to only 10 items each day allows me to focus on only the highest-priority tasks, and sets more realistic expectations for what I can actually do.
  • Three things to worry about: Just like those excess to-do items, there are other concerns in my life that shift my focus away from the things I want to accomplish. By giving myself the space to list those items, I'm validating those feelings, without allowing myself to become overwhelmed with worry.
  • Seven things to be grateful for: When I first tried this strategy, I split the worries and things I was grateful for evenly. But I quickly realized that when I gave myself more space to list what I'm thankful for, my priorities shifted in the right direction. Suddenly, my to-do list and worry items seemed to lighten.

Like other listing solutions, this one is simple and straightforward, but it has encouraged me to be more mindful and given me permission to put some things on the back-burner, reducing my stress levels. If you find yourself burning the candle at both ends, it's worth a try.