When You Have So Much to Do That You Don’t Know Where to Begin

I’ve been distracted by house hunting and other move-related tasks like getting a new driver’s license, registering my car, and finding a new pediatrician for my little one. Subsequently, I’ve fallen behind on housekeeping tasks and feel somewhat overwhelmed. In fact, it seems like I’m paralyzed by the sheer number of items on my to-do list!

Do you ever feel paralyzed when faced with a large number of tasks? Avoid this feeling with this practical approach to getting started on lengthy to-do lists.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been faced with so many tasks that you didn’t know where to begin so you just did nothing? Though having a lot to do should motivate us to work quickly and efficiently, it often has the opposite effect.

Because I’m determined to be productive in the face of lengthy to-do lists, I’ve enlisted a new approach to getting things done when I feel paralyzed by the number of tasks I need to complete.

Getting started when you have a lot to do

  1. Write down everything that needs to be done. By taking a few minutes to document all of the tasks that I need to complete, I get an accurate picture of what I’m facing. If the list is thorough, then it will prevent me from getting so carried away with some tasks that I forget others. I choose to make lists of this nature on paper instead of on a computer or smartphone because I often find myself distracted by email or social media when I use these technologies.
  2. Choose a quick, easy task and complete it. I don’t care if it’s as simple as taking out the trash, but it is critical that I complete something on the list. Why do I choose a quick, easy task and not a more complicated one? Because I am more likely to get the easy task completed and doing so gets momentum on my side.
  3. Prioritize the remaining tasks. There are dozens of different ways to determine which tasks need to be addressed first. There is not necessarily one correct way; the best approach varies based on the situation. Sometimes I’ll choose to complete several easy tasks first because getting them crossed off my list helps me feel like I’m getting somewhere. Other times I’ll choose to complete a daunting task first because I feel unburdened once it is out of the way.

These three steps are effective at getting me started. In order to keep up the productivity, I do the following.

  • Reduce distractions. Distractions come in many forms: email, social media, a good book, a craft project, etc. Even when I know I really need to be productive, it’s very easy to get sidetracked by these. Thus, I find it helpful to turn off my computer, silence my phone, and put away any projects I’m working on or books I’m reading. There will be time for these later!
  • Focus on one task at a time. Though it is tempting to multitask, the reality is that multitasking often reduces productivity. When my focus is partitioned among multiple tasks, I’m unable to fully engage in any of them so I end up getting less accomplished. It’s best to just buckle down and focus on one task at a time so each gets completed.
  • Take breaks and reward myself. Though I may need to get things done quickly, my productivity wanes after I’ve been working for a while. Therefore, I periodically take short breaks. These breaks provide opportunities to relax and refocus. The challenge, of course, is to not get carried away and spend too much time on a break! Another way I stay refreshed and motivated is by rewarding myself once I’ve accomplished tasks on my list. For example, I may treat myself to a piece of chocolate or a few minutes reading a favorite book.

What do you do when you feel like you’ll never get caught up? What strategies help you tackle long to-do lists?

Shared on the following link-ups:

The Art of Home-Making, Making Your Home Sing, Titus 2 Tuesday and Shine Blog Hop.


  1. Great list! I especially appreciate #2 as a jump-start to the rest…very smart! One of my 2015 guiding goals (and it will stick past this year) has been “just do the next thing.” When ALL my to-do’s are swirling in my head, it helps just to repeat that–and then do it! Blessings on your day, Shannon…and may your to-do list be kind. 😉

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      I think that is a very good approach. Many times I have told myself to “just do the next thing” when facing a lot of tasks. It keeps you moving and wards of feelings of being overwhelmed!

  2. Good tips! I keep a running to do list in a small notebook and date the top of the page. I still have things on my list from August 23rd!

    • I laughed when I read this, Sarah, because I probably have some things I’ve needed to do since August! A running list is a good idea because tasks you weren’t able to complete will still be listed. Thanks for sharing the idea!

  3. To do lists are my go-to method for getting things done.

    I like to pray, make my to-do list, and then invite God to direct me in my efforts to get what He wants done… done.

    Thanks for sharing these great suggestions (and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop).

    Wishing you a lovely day.

  4. That’s my favorite one… taking breaks. I love to blog but sitting in a chair all day is not healthy, and I find that I am disorganized from the fatique. I am now in the process of making an organization board (which I’ll blog about) and then pull myself together. I also think Jennifer’s idea is a very good one.. Pray before you start.

  5. Hi Shannon – I am a newish reader to your blog. I love what you wrote in this post. I can relate to a pile of half done tasks and then not knowing where to go. So I do the written list. Then That “first step/task” usually gets my momentum going. Sometimes I get more done than expected. My reward is either usually reading my cozy mystery or a bit of TV. I also related with and laughed at the commenter who dated her items – I have a few that go back a few weeks! One of these days… Enjoy!

    • Hi Laurie,
      Welcome and thanks for taking the time to share!
      It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to just get that first task done! Reading a bit is one of my favorite rewards, too, though I haven’t read a mystery in a long time. I may have to change it up soon and try one. 🙂

  6. Love this advice, and surely I need it! I am constantly overwhelmed and sometimes feel paralyzed at the thought of all I have to do. These are great tips that I will surely apply TODAY. 🙂 My other ‘go to’ for when I’m overwhelmed is to prioritize what really REALLY needs my attention, or even more so- what is causing me the most stress to NOT get done. I tackle that one first- and I feel SO much relief!

    • Hi Chris,
      Sometimes getting that stress-inducing task out of the way can really help you feel better and get started on less stressful tasks. Thanks for sharing this strategy!

  7. I am so dependent on my planner and to-do lists! I try to keep the bigger tasks at the top and shorter things on the bottom. So when I have a small time block I can easily scan the bottom of my list for a quick task.

  8. Great approach. I have three MUST DO items in my planner daily that help me know where to start.

  9. Smartest thing I ever did was to buy a small digital timer. I pick the most daunting thing on my list than set the timer for 15 minutes. Hardly anything. My rule is I must work on the task for 15 minutes than I can stop, done or not. I figure 15 minutes of something is better than a whole day of spinning in circles wondering where to start.

    Funny thing is, I find most tasks on my list actually get done in LESS than 15 minutes….or, I get so into the task that I don’t want to stop, even when the timer goes off. I think giving yourself permission to not finish is the magic trick that can make you start.

    • Hi Jill,
      The rule that you can stop whether you are done or not after 15 minutes is very interesting. I feel that this might provide motivation for me to get started because I know I won’t be stuck working on that task all day.
      Thanks for sharing!

  10. This is great advice! I also do something similar… Thank you for sharing this help on the Art of Home-Making Mondays 🙂

  11. This is something I struggle with for sure. Thanks for the tips and reminders!

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