5 things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list

There are some days when motivating yourself to get back to work seems like an impossible task. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list or distracted by social media, it can feel almost impossible to focus on what needs to be done. Here are five strategies to jumpstart your productivity and get the ball rolling again.

Take a time-restrained break. Even though it may seem counterproductive to stop working, there is a lot of research that shows that taking short breaks can boost your energy, refresh your focus, and ultimately increase productivity.

Set an alarm for a short amount of time (try between 15 and 30 minutes) so that you don’t accidentally prolong your break. Also, if your brain is prepared for a temporary break, it’s more likely to maximize the benefits of the break and not get caught up in thinking about something else.

Reward yourself for completing the task. Sometimes, if you’re not feeling motivated, the trick is to create the motivation for yourself. Think up a reward that you can give yourself once the task is done. Be it ice cream or a relaxing walk, the anticipation of receiving it will certainly help egg you into action.

If you are faced with a big project, then you don’t necessarily wait until the entire task is finished. Studies show that periodic rewards will also improve productivity and focus, so plan out smaller rewards for incremental productivity and save the best reward for when you’ve truly completed the task.

Make a smart to-do list. A really long to-do list may overwhelm you more than motivate you, so instead of listing all tasks, take on a smarter strategy. First, make a list of everything you need to get done, and then put a star next to the top three most urgent items on the list.

Forcing yourself to focus on only three tasks will help you complete the most impactful items on your to-do list. Plus, three is a much more manageable number than 25, so it’ll be easier to self-motivate. Once you finish those three tasks, star another three.

Reach out for support. If you know that you struggle to push yourself to start something that you’ve already stopped doing, then find someone else who will. Try to unstick yourself from a rut by asking for help or by calling a friend or colleague to bounce ideas off of.

Research indicates that quick chats with others boost the region of the brain that controls focus, planning, prioritization, and organization. So, instead of shutting everyone out when you’re trying to focus, consider the opposite and talk your way into productivity.

Just start, and start small. Instead of thinking of whatever it is you need to get done in its overwhelming entirety, try to just take the first small step. For example, if you need to start exercising, then just start with putting on your favorite workout outfit. Chances are, once you’re in them, it’ll be easier to follow through with the rest of the workout.

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