Feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do?

Making a list WILL help

I always used a daily planner in school to keep track of my assignments and deadlines. A real, paper planner and a pencil are an absolute must for a truly busy schedule. Using the calendar on your phone might work fine, but a hard copy planner is better. True, if your phone calendar is backed up to the cloud, you will never lose it. What happens, though, when your phone battery dies? A planner doesn't need batteries.

More importantly, an electronic to-do-list is a guaranteed way to distract yourself from actually getting anything done. Social media, Reddit, E-mail, and text messages are terrible distractions to keep right next to a productivity tool like a planner.

In law school my workload increased to the point where I began to have trouble writing all of my assignments down into the relatively small space in my planner. There were so many assignments due each week, that I began to be overwhelmed. There was absolutely no way that I could just remember what I had to do for each class, and looking up assignments for each class was a waste of time and led to being distracted by getting on the internet. 

My planner was doing its job, but when I looked at it I would get overwhelmed with the sheer number of things to be done. I would just keep thinking, "Oh I have to do this, and that, and that, and all that ... " I would be so overwhelmed that I wouldn't even feel like starting. Any work that I did do felt like a tiny drop in a bucket of a huge week of tasks. 

So, I started making checklists.

How your checklists will make a difference

Checklists halved my task-related stress. I think it's worth giving them a try if you haven't already.
A simple checklist on a legal pad sized piece of paper is incredibly powerful.

First, the act of putting everything you have to do today on a large piece of paper will help you start doing something. When you have so much to do that you don't even want to start, just getting started at all is your biggest obstacle. Take your time and write neatly.

Making a list tricks your anxious brain into getting into "time to work" mode. It feels like and brings the comforts of procrastination, but as you draw your boxes and write out your tasks you are getting an overview of what each task checkbox requires to complete. Some larger tasks will have multiple obvious steps, and making smaller sub-checkboxes will help you turn these giant tasks into several, less ominous, smaller tasks. 

It is very important that each item gets its own box. If you have multiple reading assignments for each class, or multiple tasks in a similar category, make sure you make a sub-checkbox for each. 

NEVER check off a box until the task is complete. Do not check a box off when you start a task, save it for when you are finished. 

ORDER list items by importance, or first deadline, so that the most pressing tasks are first on the list. When you start completing your tasks, always work from the top of the list to the bottom of the list. Do not jump around the list.

Make sure your list is for tasks that you need to complete today. Do not put tasks for tomorrow or later in the week on your list, those tasks should be written in your planner.

When you have finished creating your checklist, you will see that there is a definite number of tasks, and not an overwhelming swarm of things to do. Begin work on your first task immediately after you feel that you have completed your list. On take a break at some point after you have started this task, not before. Your list will help you transition to working on this first task. You are getting things done, and soon each of those boxes will be checked off right down to the bottom of your list.

When you are finished with the last task on your list do not forget to check it off. Savor that last checkbox. You put just as much willpower into completing that last task as you did for the first on your list. 

Check that last box and then tear that piece of paper out and leave it in your work area at home. It might sound silly, but that piece of paper is a trophy. You overcame crippling feelings of being overwhelmed and got things done. That means something! 

When I graduated law school my brother in law helped me move with his moving truck. He and my sister came down and helped my fiancee and I pack everything up. I had a giant stack of completed checklists on my dining room table, which had served as a kind of staging area for all of my studying. My brother in law flipped through it and gave a low whistle. 

Be kind to yourself

We do get busy, and sometimes there's no way to hit the pause button when we are in the middle of everything. Remember that you know can do it. You signed yourself up for all this. If you keep feeling overwhelmed, take it back a notch. At the next opportunity, take on a little less where you can and give yourself more time to complete what you set out to do. 

Take a break at least every two hours, and remember to take your breaks during your tasks and not in between them. Having forced break time will keep you from burning out and getting distracted during work time.