Feeling stressed, rushed, and overburdened with responsibilities and not enough time to complete everything? Well, you might not be the only one who feels like this, and we can blame our collective buy-in on the idea that being busy all the time helps us get more done.

We’ve glamorized the idea of overscheduling ourselves to the point where being busy and filling our calendars with various things has begun affecting our physical and emotional well-being. In turn, we actually become less productive and likely less motivated to get everything checked off our seemingly endless to-do list.

Pushing long hours at the office while still having to care for your family, manage a social life, try to get enough exercise, and run errands each weekend can leave anyone feeling stressed and burned out.

Our schedules are too busy — and it’s hurting human beings

Nowadays, it seems that everyone, from new employees fresh out of college to working parents, is feeling the burdens of busy schedules, which are impacting their well-being and relationships.

In an Indeed.com survey published in 2021, more than half of Gen Z and Millennial workers said they felt burned out. In total, 59% of Gen Zers and 58% of Millennials reported having the highest rates of burnout, with rates among Gen Zs increasing the fastest.

On the other hand, working parents are finding it increasingly hard to manage both a demanding career and an active family life. In a report by The Ohio State University, a staggering 66% of working parents were found to meet the standard criteria for parental burnout.

We’re working our fingers to the bone and bending ourselves backward, constantly adding more and more things to do on our schedules. Now, this year, it’s time to try something new—we’re creating a not-to-do list and instead doing less to at least try to become more productive and help us stay motivated.

The antidote is subtraction, not addition

Looking at everything that you might already have on your schedule and calendar for the next several weeks, or perhaps the months ahead can easily leave you feeling somewhat anxious, knowing that there is still a lot to get through before you can have some time for yourself.

The reality is that removing the things you don’t deem a priority or necessarily relevant in your daily routine can help you build a more productive schedule and potentially free up more of your time.

You can think of the antidote as subtraction, not addition. By removing things from our schedules that only cost us valuable time, we can find dead zones in our calendars that will give us more freedom to do the things we enjoy. Now is the time to create your no-to-do list and get more done by doing less

Understanding your schedule

Start by looking at your schedule or calendar and trying to understand which tasks or activities align with your goals. Some things might be more important than others; however, the aim is to consider gathering as much information as possible about your scheduling habits.

If you still have time, read through some of your older schedules or look at older calendars from past weeks to see where you have taken on more responsibilities than you can handle.

You can read through some work emails or maybe look at your weekly meeting schedule. If you have a shared household calendar, look at where new things have come up over recent days or weeks and try to gather insight as to what they might be and where you can start trimming some of the fat.

Categorize all of your tasks

Next, you can categorize your tasks. This might look different for everyone, but some of the main categories may include work, household, school, and social. Begin to list each of these tasks under a specific category.

The idea is to see which category is taking up the most time. For some people, this might be work or even household, seeing as these are usually the two most important scheduling categories. Once you’ve finished categorizing each, it’s time to begin looking at each and decide whether it aligns with your goals or if it’s simply another distraction.

Start with the category with the most tasks listed, and begin to deduce the things that take up too much of your time. If the category is work, and things such as too many meetings, checking your emails several times per day, even your commute or things that are energy-draining have been listed more than other important things that align with your goals, then you know where to begin to remove items that may be irrelevant.

Identify energy-draining tasks

There are surely plenty of low-value energy-draining tasks that are somehow included in your schedule. Schedule individual team calls when you already have a weekly catch-up meeting. Other events such as having to read countless emails or spend hours of your day correcting other mistakes that are not part of your job description.

At home, there may be similar things. Spending hours in the kitchen cooking while someone could be giving you a helping hand. Folding laundry each morning before work, while this task could instead be assigned as a shared household chore. Packing out the dishwasher, cleaning up toys, washing the car, putting out trash, and so many more.

There are multiple things, if not dozens, that take up so much of your time without you ever noticing. Being more vigilant and considering how these things can be divided among everyone in the household will help free up a lot of your time.

Living alone? Try creating a routine where you clean as you go while cooking or assign a day of the week to do laundry. Do one big load of dishes in the dishwasher every few days, or spend a Sunday morning quickly cleaning up around your house and taking care to be cleaned.

There are ways to become more efficient; it’s simply a matter of finding the things in your schedule that are consuming too much of your time and trying to do less of them.

Remove repetitive tasks

As we’ve already mentioned, you might be doing a host of repetitive tasks and each of these tasks is costing you valuable time, which you’re looking to gain rather than lose.

The idea of creating a not-to-do list is to find repetitive tasks and either remove them completely from your schedule or choose not to do them.

You don’t need to do several loads of laundry during the week unless otherwise deemed necessary. If you have to attend every meeting at work or that your team schedules, you can always ask what your contribution would mean for the meeting’s outcomes. It might mean that you learn something new about your job or are not needed in that meeting after all.

Your scheduled duties and responsibilities need to align with your goals. This includes the things you do at work or when you’re at home. You might find yourself doing countless things when, instead, it wasn’t necessary to do in the first place.

Have a digital calendar

Having a digital calendar can help you create a not-to-do list, as you’ll only need to schedule the important things or those that will help you achieve a bigger goal. You might want a calendar for both work and personal things, but sometimes it’s easier to have one digital calendar and strategically organize everything in one.

Why do we have only digital calendars? Well, that’s a good question. Have you ever considered how much time you spend clearing out all your separate calendars, constantly making notes of everything during the day, or losing track of which events are happening when and where?

All of this admin is only another energy-draining mundane activity that takes time, and having to remember that you need to do this every day or week can become exhausting and simply repetitive.

Create a digital calendar that aligns with your needs, and find more balance in prioritizing the more important things. What you consider important might differ from that of your colleague or partner. However, try to keep from overbooking yourself, especially if it’s for things that won’t make that much of a difference in your life.

Plan in advance

There is power in planning. While some people may go the extra mile by planning several weeks or even several months in advance, for some of us, it’s easier to take it day by day. However, this comes with the administration of keeping track of your schedule every minute or on the hour as new tasks come to light.

Instead, plan your weeks. Start on a Sunday, and begin to slot in the most important things on your weekly itinerary—things like an important meeting at work or maybe having to attend an event with friends. Make arrangements well in advance, and stick to it if they’ve been slotted in.

Now, the test is to see how little you can assign on those days when something has already been scheduled. Yes, it’s understandable that things can change at the very last minute, but if you’re already busy with work, why include another meeting or phone call with someone if that could be assigned to someone else?

Make an effort to stick with your weekly calendar. Where you already have plans, try and stay with them instead of adding more responsibilities or doing more things during the day that won’t make much of a difference by the time you’re heading off to bed.

Effective communication is powerful

Saying “no” will help save you countless hours. That includes saying no to things at work or home. Can you make that meeting on Monday, knowing you’re already fairly backed up with work? No. Do you have the capacity to run errands, pick up the kids from school, and still respond to emails? No.

There are numerous examples of where we take on more than we can handle, and we’re all guilty of this. Instead of including another meeting or having to check your emails while already being engaged with several other things, take the time to process everything and decide when the right time is to say no.

More than this, it’s important to say no and communicate your needs with those around you. Your manager or boss might expect you to perform specific duties, but you won’t be able to do this if you’re constantly being held up in meetings or calls. Your kids might want you to be there for their soccer game, but having to run errands at the same time, and being on the clock can become increasingly exhausting.

Communicate your needs and how you can become more proactive with the limited capacity you have available to manage your time better.

Perfectionism steals valuable time

We understand the need to get everything done perfectly, but sometimes, that’s simply not possible, and the next best thing will have to be done. Being a perfectionist can be a challenge sometimes, as you’re constantly striving to become better and provide the best quality outcomes.

However, perfectionism can be dangerous. One paper by the Harvard Business Review says that perfectionism is the enemy of productivity and can cause more harm than good.

Yes, there might be times that you feel giving 110% will provide better outcomes, but then there are times when you will need to give 80% or even 50% to help create balance in your day-to-day life.

Knowing what you need to do and understanding that not everything has to be perfect to the very last second will help take a lot of weight off your shoulders and, more importantly, alleviate the stress of constantly managing your expectations.

Give yourself time to enjoy life

Whether you agree or disagree, you are entitled to enjoy your life to the best of your ability. The idea of creating a not-to-do list is to try to incorporate more time into your schedule to enjoy life, and this includes being a colleague, parent, or friend to other people.

Being present at the moment has become a crucial part of our never-ending busy lifestyles. Changing our perspective on the idea of constantly being busy and instead embracing the idea of doing less will help us take more time for ourselves.

Think of the last time you did something for yourself. A coffee date alone, or using that gym membership you’ve been paying for? In a Pew Research Survey, around 60% of American adults said they sometimes felt too busy to enjoy life.

Taking care of yourself and your family should be your priority, and that’s why it becomes essential to consider how your time is being used each week. Taking care of your health, getting enough exercise, taking your supplements and vitamins as you begin to age, and even spending time with friends can all be things you can do if you decide to be less busy and simply approach your schedule differently.

Final Considerations

Now that you know that doing less — and having a not-to-do list can help you become more productive, consider how you will use this approach in the coming weeks when planning your schedule.

Try to find a balance between the things that you consider a priority and the things that you might have recognized as energy-wasting mundane tasks that could either be eliminated or at least minimized.

Knowing how to build a not-to-do list and focus on the important things that help bring you closer to your end goal will make it easier for you to feel more productive and perhaps get more done without having to load more responsibilities onto your shoulders.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich; Pexels