4 ways to make your to-do list less overwhelming – organizer tricks to reduce stress and maintain productivity

These home organizer tricks for a more efficient to-do list are guaranteed to reduce stress while maximizing productivity

Layout of business tools for demonstrating a business concept with to do list on a wooden background. A laptop, a notebook, a pen, a phone, and a cup of black coffee.
(Image credit: Ekaterina Goncharova via Getty Images)

We are all guilty of making to-do lists and leaving items on there for weeks at a time, or prioritizing the easy ones and leaving tougher tasks till the last minute. 

Whether you regularly put off the daily tasks professional organizers swear by, leading to an overwhelming home, or struggle to create a weekly organizing schedule you can stick to, you don't have to give up on your to-do list forever. 

This is how to make your to-do list more efficient to tackle your household chores in half the time with half the stress. 

How to make your to-do list less overwhelming

From attempting challenges such as the Scary Hour technique to reorganizing your list to coax you away from procrastination, this is how to get your chores knocked off the list quickly and efficiently.  

Decluttering to do list

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Keep your to-do list on hand

For a to-do list to work you have to be able to see it and add things to it as and when you remember a task, begins Jill Diana, professional organizer and owner of Discover Organizing. Keeping it to hand all the time is a great way to stay on top of your tasks and make your to-do list more efficient:

‘The key to making to-do lists and keeping clutter at bay is making it an ongoing process. Keep a stack of Post-it notes handy – any time you come across something you have not used, something that is broken or no longer needed, stick a note on it. It is a way to remember to revisit the items in the future.’ 

This is a great method when doing something like a catch-all day, where you are actively moving around your home looking for tasks to clean up your space.  

Post-It Notes | View at Walmart

Post-It Notes | <a href="https://goto.walmart.com/c/1943169/565706/9383?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.walmart.com%2Fip%2FPost-it-Notes-1-3-8-in-x-1-7-8-in-Poptimistic-4-Pads%2F710694717" data-link-merchant="walmart.com"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">View at Walmart
Use each color for a different subject or priority to make reminders easy to see at a glance.

2. Schedule breaks into your list

If you struggle to get motivated to clean or get motivated to declutter and find a wall of to-do list tasks overwhelming, then it can help to schedule breaks into your list, suggests Krissy Metzler, executive function coach at The Goalden System. It might not sound efficient, but it works, she assures:

‘One way to combat this cycle is to build breaks into your list. For example, after completing three things on your list, the next bullet point may read, "10-minute walk." This gives your brain a bit of a break, which also helps with overall productivity. 

‘By taking this approach your brain is getting a structured break, which can lower stress, and the benefit of crossing something off the list once the break is complete.’

3. Start with a brain dump

Sometimes, when trying to organize or declutter when you feel overwhelmed, it can be hard to know where to start and where you’re heading. To help make the planning process simpler, you should always start with a brain dump.

‘A Brain Dump is a way of getting all of those to-dos that are ping-ponging in your head, out of your brain so you can effectively and efficiently create a plan to do them. By putting your to-dos on paper, you can visualize them, which makes ordering, prioritizing, and planning that much easier,’ says Leslie Josel, productivity expert at Order Out of Chaos

‘Step 1: List your to-dos as they pop into your head. Don't think too much. The point is to just clear your head and not focus on order or priority.

Step 2. Make your to-dos actionable. The key here is to create some movement. It's a simple trick I use to get those mundane to-dos to jump off the page.

Step 3: Group like with like. Want to avoid an overloaded, to-do list meltdown and save time? Here's the catch. Your tasks need to match. When creating your dump, put all your errands together, your emails together, and so on. You'll manage your time more effectively.’

4. Do at least three tasks

You don’t have to tackle 20 tasks in a day to be productive, often, just three is enough to keep your home clean and stop your list from becoming overwhelming, assures Molly Beran, president and founder of Projects By Molly.

‘My main tip for making to-do lists is to make a top-three to-do list on a Post-It note at the beginning of your day. All of us have more than three things to do in a given day, but when you set a small, clear focus, it helps you keep track of what is most important,’ Molly recommends. 

‘This is a tactic I used heavily during the pandemic and continue to use both personally and with my clients. It's an easy way to make sure you get the most important things done, and it's so simple that anyone can do it. Also, I find that practicing this muscle each day helps build confidence. 

‘After you complete one Post-It, and then another, and then another, you start to feel like you've accomplished something with your days.’


How do you make a to-do list less overwhelming? 

One of the simplest ways to make a to-do list less overwhelming is to only put tasks in there that you are likely to forget, or have to prioritize. Removing smaller mundane tasks you do anyway, such as preparing lunch for tomorrow or doing the dishes, slims down the list to make it less stressful.  

Why do to-do lists stress me out?  

To-do lists can be stressful if you put too much on there and put too much pressure on yourself to get everything on the list done in too short a time. Learning how to prioritize tasks and slim your list down to the absolute essentials can make these more manageable guidance tools, rather than a source of guilt or stress. 

It is good to remember that to-do lists don’t always work for everyone. People who struggle with to-do lists no matter what they try might be better off working with a ta-da list instead of trying the hunter method to boost productivity and stave off procrastination.  

Chiana Dickson

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.