Why you should stop doing too many things at once

Go easy on yourself this week and learn how to prioritize your to-do list. You might be surprised at how much can wait.

Woman relaxing on the couch

(Photo by Getty Images)

Life can feel like one long endurance challenge sometimes. The struggle to stay on top of work and home, to maintain relationships with friends and family, not to mention our health and physical fitness seems never-ending, if not occasionally impossible.

Human beings are an ambitious lot, which is a wonderful quality, but it also means we place seemingly superhuman expectations on ourselves.

The idea that we can work for eight hours, make breakfast, lunch and dinner, clean the house, walk the dog, empty the litter box, get at least 30 minutes of exercise, refuse that second slice of birthday cake, talk to our mothers, friends and partners (and not crankily, but reasonably and calmly), and then cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize before bed is a pretty tall order for a 12- to 24-hour period.

Not surprisingly, many of us fail to complete our epic daily to-do lists. I finally managed to get a load of laundry done last week, but haven’t yet managed to summon the strength to fold it or put it away. The laundry hamper sits crouched at the end of my bed as a fragrant reminder of my failure to keep on top of my domestic chores and to wear wrinkle-free clothing.

Recently, however, I’ve decided to cut myself some slack. The reason being that I found myself becoming snappy, brittle and borderline hysterical — and all in service of my routine, my addiction to all that to-do listing.

I’ve stopped sleeping with my smartphone next to my bed, stopped listening to my MP3 player while I clean or get groceries or exercise, stopped multi-tasking and instead just do one thing at a time. The rewards of my taking a break from routine have been subtle but meaningful. I sat in my backyard and listened to the birds singing. I took a nap in the sun rather than go for a walk or take an exercise class or beat myself up for doing neither.

Inspired by a friend who decided to trim her to-do list after a recent health hurdle, I have vowed to keep my list to no more than five items a day. (My friend reduced her to-do list to one essential task: “Feed the baby”.)

Weirdly the universe has taken my slacking in stride. You might even say the universe hasn’t even noticed. It’s gone on as it always has — occasionally brutal, indifferent and relentless. But me, I’m enjoying what remains of summer — even the humidity. And from what I can tell from their song, so are the birds.

What’s the first thing you’d like to take off your to-do list? Tell us in the comment section below.