Why you should take time away from your to-do list

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There may be no simple joy more satisfying than crossing a burdensome task off of your to-do list. Scribbling it into oblivion, you can feel the metaphorical weight lift from your shoulders as you take a big, therapeutic sigh — that is, until your eyes travel down to all of the other tasks left to be accomplished. You feel that impending stress suffocate you yet again.

There’s no doubt that a to-do list can be an extremely valuable tool for organization and efficiency. My list-making app, Wunderlist, is without a doubt one of the most frequented apps on my phone. I’m elated every time I hear the “Ding!” that comes when I check a task off my list, to the point that I would sometimes create meaningless list items just for the pleasure of deleting them. Other times, I would stare, paralyzed, at the seemingly insurmountable number of tasks instead of actually doing any of the work.

As fruitful as list-making can be, it can just as easily become an obsession and a drain on your motivation and mental health. Taking time away from your to-do list can positively influence your life and state of mind in a variety of ways. Here’s how.

You’ll fall asleep less stressed.

I endured many sleepless nights during a particularly hectic and stressful semester of college, but I realized why once I took a closer look at my behavior. Every night right before bed, the last thing I would look at was my lengthy to-do list. Then I’d try to fall asleep with a gaping pit in my stomach.

Clearing your mind is essential to getting a good night’s sleep and fueling the next day of productive work. Instead of staring blankly at your to-do list before bed, read a chapter of a book, write in a journal, stretch or listen to calming music. Find a way to relax your mind and body without thinking about everything that’s left to do the next day. You’ll wake up well-rested and significantly more at ease.

You’ll enjoy time away from work.

When your to-do list becomes a controlling force in your life, it can infiltrate designated fun and carefree time with friends or family. It’ll follow you everywhere, as you almost incessantly review the never-ending onslaught of tasks and chores you continually create for yourself.

Your body, mind and spirit need time to unwind in order to function properly. Stressing over your list endlessly could even take a toll on your personal relationships. Your personal life and enjoyment should not suffer from your workload anxiety, so focus on successfully pushing those stress-induced thoughts from your mind. If temporarily deleting your list-making app will lessen the temptation to check it, then do it.

You’ll work out your priorities.

I never thought I was a procrastinator — how could I be? I was always working! But I soon realized that I unwittingly procrastinate all the time, partly due to my to-do list. If there’s an urgent task coming up soon that I simply don’t want to complete, I’ll get started on a number of menial tasks that aren’t due for weeks or don’t even need to be done at all.

Prioritization is a crucial aspect of productivity and requires being honest with yourself about what is (and what should be) most important to you. And when it feels like your list is starting to swallow you whole, it could be a sign that something needs to give. More than just completing your tasks and goals, you want to do them well. Re-prioritizing your commitments will give you some definite clarity and welcomed peace of mind.

You’ll actually be more productive.

Once you have a better understanding of what matters to you, you worry less about making a dent in your to-do list and more about doing what needs to be done. You may spend an afternoon organizing your desk even though it wasn’t on your list because it needed to be done, made you feel good about yourself and motivated you to get cracking on other goals.

The time and energy you spend worrying about your to-do list could be better used to accomplish what you want or take time to refresh. Your level of satisfaction should not be beholden to any to-do list, and your sole motivation shouldn’t be tied to checking every item off of your list. Spoiler alert: It’s not possible and, frankly, not the point. Creating new goals and coming up with new ideas means progressing forward. And that, my friends, should bring you joy, not stress.

This article first appeared on Swirled.