3 Tips To Stop Your To-Do List From Ruining Your Life (Hint: Stop Trying To Be More Productive)

While I love talking about time management, I strongly dislike the word productivity. It brings to mind getting more on your to-do list done in less time just so we can cram more in. It ramps up stress.

The goal of life, however, isn’t to get the most done or to be a stressed-out servant to your tasks. It’s to enjoy your life with a healthy mental state, accomplishing the things you want to accomplish, and being able to turn it off to soak in time with family and friends. 

The truth is, I don’t think most of us need help being productive. Most of us get a ton done each day. What we need help with is knowing that we sufficiently moved the ball forward on our main projects today, that we have a realistic game plan to complete those projects in the next days or weeks (freeing us from the need to do it all right now) and that we can rest easy tonight. 

So, practically, how do we make this shift away from getting the neverending more-more-more drive for productivity to managing it all with more peace of mind and less stress?

The answer: ditch your to-do lists and leverage a tool you’re already using – your digital calendar.

Daily Mom Parent Portal To-Do
Read More: Ultimate Family Dance Party: 60 Jamming Songs for the Perfect Playlist

To-do lists make everything the same big deal (hello, stress)

Because there’s no innate sense of priorities or time associated with the tasks on a to-do list, all of it comes across as equally important. To-do lists don’t help you know when you’ll do each thing, how long it will take, and how it fits with everything else you want to accomplish that day. Without this information (and the resulting clear game plan you’d have if you had all of that info), you’re left with the sea of things you need to do, leading to frozen overwhelm.

According to Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. of the Well Clinic, “Your brain doesn’t just see a to-do list; it sees a threat. It sees the threat of scarcity: not enough time, not enough energy, not enough magical ability to fit everything into twenty-four hours. Or it sees the threat of failing, the threat of disappointing others, the threat of feeling incapable.”

You see this play out in real-time when you spend five minutes, multiple times a day trying to figure out what to do next. Even though to-do lists are meant to make you feel like things are easier to accomplish, they often just make things more anxiety-ridden or stressful than they have to be. 

If your to-do list (or any time management tool) makes you feel overwhelmed or like you’re bad at managing your time, then it’s time to switch it up. 

Pick a time management tool that’s good for your mental wellness  

I get it. Talking about to-do lists and digital calendars in the same breath as mental wellness sounds—disjointed. But how we feel about how we manage our time has a surprising impact on how we feel about our lives and ourselves. 

The differences between these thoughts can change how we feel:

  • Am I proud of myself for what I got done today or am I focused on the 48 things I didn’t do (even though in no world would have gotten them all done today)? 
  • Am I able to wrap up this work project in time to be able to really focus on my daughter’s science presentation prep tonight? 
  • Will I remember to call my friend tomorrow before her child goes into surgery—while also balancing those two conference calls around that time?

Everything we do in life comes back to time, so how we manage our time—and how we feel about how we manage our time—is critical to our well being. 

Daily Mom Parent Portal To-Do
Read More: Raising Kids With an Attitude of Gratitude

When you’re looking for a tool to help you do that, evaluate how it affects your mental wellness. Here are a few questions that you can ask to see if your tools are helping your emotional well-being or hurting it:

  • Does this tool make you feel like YOU’RE bad at time management or not getting enough done?
  • Is it helping you feel realistic in your plans or are you consistently disappointed that you didn’t get everything done that you planned on that day?
  • Does it help you go to bed feeling accomplished by what you got done—or defeated by what you didn’t?
  • Does it help you embrace the limits of your daily hours and make decisions about what’s important to you?
  • Does it help you see when you objectively have too much on your plate so that you can make changes to lighten up your load—or does it leave you feeling like it’s your fault that you can’t get it all done?

Here’s the thing: poor time management is the result of a system failure—not a character flaw. And yet, it’s an area of life that certainly feels like a personal failure when it goes wrong. Make sure you’re using tools that help you plan realistically and feel good about yourself. Let’s talk about how to do that.

Daily Mom Parent Portal To-Do
Read More: The Perfect Weekend Getaway: Visit the Bode Hotel & These 6 Restaurants In Chattanooga

Calendaring your tasks weirdly helps your mental health

One of the biggest stressors to-do lists inadvertently set ablaze in your life is their inability to show you how you’ll get things done over time. As a result, you feel a nagging pressure to get it all done right now or else you’ll risk not getting it all done in time. Of course, doing it all right now is impossible, but that doesn’t prevent us from beating ourselves up for failing to do so.  

We need a system that helps us understand when we’re going to do each thing, how long it’s going to take, and how it fits with everything else we want to accomplish that day, week, or month. Enter, your digital calendar. Sprinkling your to-do’s over time in your digital calendar gives you that clarity. When you calendar the time you’ll do each task, you create a game plan of how to get it all done over time, relieving you of that pressure to do it all right now. As a result, you’ll be able to take a break tonight and actually enjoy it, knowing the rest can wait and that you’ve protected time to do it.

In addition, calendaring your tasks forces you to break things down into bite-size steps, which helps break down the overwhelm. And because only so many blocks of tasks fit in the objective, limited hours of a day in your calendar, this approach makes you choose which things you’ll do today and which things can wait. That objective view of your workload also helps you understand that, yes, you may have a workload problem, but it’s not a you problem, thereby empowering you to ask for help and have confidence in drawing boundaries.

Ditching your to-do lists for a calendar-based system will allow you to plan more realistically, feel more accomplished each day (instead of feeling defeated by your unrealistic plans), and help you take breaks you actually enjoy.

This is a time management approach that will truly help you maintain that productivity you want in your life while also helping you find that peace of mind you’ve been craving.

Enjoy some quality self care by Finding Inner Peace Through Art Journaling Therapy: A Creative Path to Self-Discovery.



Sign up to receive our picks for the best things to do, see and buy so you can relax and focus on more important tasks! Let us help you be the best version of yourself you can be!




Photo credit: Christin Hume | Guillaume de Germain |



We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Kelly Nolan
Kelly Nolan
I’m Kelly Nolan, an attorney-turned-time management strategist and mom. Using realistic time management strategies, I help modern working women (especially moms) manage everything on their plate with less stress and more calm clarity.