slide1I was doing a little coaching the other day for somebody who has A LOT going on right now. It’s all good stuff, but a lot is a lot no matter how you slice it. Her first reaction to a lot is very similar to my reaction to a lot and it goes something like this: eyes closed, fingers in ears, maybe a little rocking, and shouting: “Too Much! Too Much!” Oddly enough neither one of us has had much luck in having that particular strategy actually make LESS of the mountain of tasks, stressors, needs staring us in the face. But let’s face it, 30 seconds of yelling and rocking with your eyes squeezed closed never hurt anyone, has it?

Part of the problem with having a case of the Too Muches is that it is extremely difficult to get anything done with your eyes closed while you rock. The list gets longer. No discernment about what really matters is taking place here, because it really is all Too Much. The only legitimate place to start when you have a case of the Too Muches is to calm the heck down (yes, I edited myself). Do whatever does that for you: deep breaths, eyes closed without squeezing your eyeballs, maybe a short walk, a quick dip into nature by looking outside. Whatever works, do that for even as short as a minute. It’s totally worth the time – you’re not being productive anyway…

When you have achieved a reasonable level of calm, get out a pen and a clean sheet of paper (or whatever you like to write with/on, personally I LOVE a nice clean piece of paper and a pen that fits just right) and write down EVERYTHING you need to do. Stay calm while you do this; you’re just writing it down, not scheduling it. You’re not even saying you’re going to do it. Just write it down so you can see all of it. SOMETIMES when we do this, the list is actually more manageable when we think. I’ve had that happen; I really have. But it also sometimes happens that I make the list and it’s big and ridiculous and makes me cringe because who on earth could possibly do all that?! That’s what we’re going to deal with next.

My fabulous teacher Martha Beck employs a strategy for such times that is called: Bag It, Barter It or Better It. It is a super useful strategy. We’re going to add a little to that strategy that admittedly ruins the alliteration, but makes it a more effective tool for me personally, so maybe for you too. I like to Evaluate It, Bag It, Delegate It, Barter It or Better It (EBDBB – which sounds a little like a weird guitar chord, but I digress).

So you’ve got your gargantuan list. First thing to do is to go through it and identify all the things you need to do. Be quick about it. Don’t think, just mark them, maybe with a little N next to line item. Next, make a little mark (maybe a W) next to the things you really, really want to do. No thinking, just marking. In theory every item on your list should have an “N” or “W” or whatever you used next to it. Some items may even have both. That’s lovely. We’re going to ignore those for a while after we notice they’re there and feel happy about that.

slide2Now go to those items that are marked only with that judgy N. Here’s your list of things that you need but don’t want to do. I want you to, still in your state of deep calm, read each item and Evaluate whether you actually need to do it. There are a two big parts to this evaluation. First, does this task actually need to be done, like now, today (or for whatever time period you’re making the list for)? If no, cross it off, just Bag it (or if you’re compulsive like I am, move it to another list for later consideration). The second question to ask while you’re evaluating is whether or not you need to do the task. Is there any chance you’ve taken on work that isn’t yours and that really belongs to someone else? Is there any chance you are doing something for someone (say a growing child perhaps) that he or she is perfectly now capable of doing for themselves? If the answer is NO you do not need to do it, and YES it is someone else’s work, Delegate that stuff. Like now, with kindness and a little instruction if necessary. After you’ve delegated, cross those off your list as well.

What’s left? A shorter list for certain, but there still may be things on there that you really need to do and would rather not… What to do? Barter and Better those remainders. These are pretty simple, which I’m sure you’re glad to hear as I’ve already gone on far too long.

Bartering a to do list item means looking at those remaining items and figuring out if there are any you could have someone else do for you in exchange for something you are awesome at or enjoy. Work on my website? I’ll coach you. Paint my deck?  I’ll sing at your party. See how that works? There are people who LIKE to do the things you don’t want to do. Find them. Barter.

The last step in making your to do list to do-able? Better it. Find a way to do the task that is more appealing. Break it into small pieces. Listen to your favorite music or podcast while you do it. Promise yourself a nice walk after you finish. Make that task (and finishing it) more appealing.

So how many items does that leave? I’m guessing a much smaller number than you started with AND the great part is that you probably want  to do most of them, or at least you’ll get a fancy coffee drink out of the deal. Sounds a lot better to me.

There may be a few of you who didn’t get past step one. Why? “It’s TOO MUCH” could be one answer. “I marked all the things I need  to do, but I’m not really sure what I want to do,” could be another. “I made a really big list and now I’m throwing up in my shoes,” could be a third. If any of these, or some variant like you threw up but not in your shoes, is true for you, I would be delighted to help you tame that list.



  1. Saw this on Turn it Up Tuesday’s and really enjoyed it. I am a huge list maker. Always have been. It helps me feel less stressed if I get it all out on paper and I secretly love crossing things off my lists. I have gotten into the times where my list seems so long I get overwhelmed. I like the idea of creating it into two lists of things you need to do and things you want to do. This I’m sure would help me feel less overwhelmed! Thanks!

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