Productivity Distilled: How to conquer an overwhelming week

Prioritizing may be the key to lowering your stress levels

A messy to-do list.

Here’s a situation every Queen’s student knows all too well: it’s Monday morning and you have a massive list of things you didn’t get to last week. You glance at your calendar to find more jam-packed weeks ahead with no time to slow down. 

With midterm season gearing up, job applications in full swing, and extracurricular responsibilities seeping into your once-coveted free time, life is beginning to feel a tad overwhelming. 

If you’re starting to feel burnt out, it’s critical to approach the weeks ahead in control rather than stressed and overwhelmed.

Prioritize tasks ahead of time

While it may be satisfying to spew out everything you need to do on a sheet of paper, massive to-do lists are often counter-productive and hide the differing levels of importance between our tasks. Although emailing a professor about Research Assistant positions and getting new highlighters may both be on your to-do list, they're not equal. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love fresh highlighters too, but new school supplies don’t have the same impact an uncomfortable task like emailing a professor might.

We tend to de-prioritize the tasks which are most uncomfortable for us to do, and it’s why we may see the same things on our to-do lists week after week. This pattern boils down to playing a constant game of mental Jenga with our to-do lists, only pulling out the tasks which look right in the moment.

We tend to de-prioritize the tasks which are most uncomfortable for us to do, and it’s why we may see the same things on our to-do lists week after week.

While this strategy means your lighter tasks may get done, the important ones end up buried—providing short-term feelings of accomplishment instead of the long-term pay-off we crave and set out for.

A useful strategy to combat avoiding important tasks is starting each week by prioritizing your tasks. Outline the five most important jobs of your week, then another five slightly less pressing ones, and finally, five additional tasks which don’t get touched until everything else is checked off. 

This prioritization forces you to move down your to-do’s in order of importance, distinguishing the “want-to-do” from the “need-to-do.” 

For the rest of the week, start each day by identifying the most important task. This is the task which, if it was the only thing you accomplished that day, you would still consider that day to be productive. 

Pre-structured journals, like the popular Productivity Planner, provide accountability by outlining this weekly and daily structure for you. Having this format laid out can be helpful, especially when starting with a structure like this for the first time. 

However, this habit of prioritizing your tasks can easily be adopted in a blank journal or existing agenda—all it takes is two minutes and a little intention. 

By committing to a structure like this on a weekly basis, your overflowing stress levels may dissipate and you’ll begin to see just how much can get done in a week if you plan effectively. 

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