Written by Sue Gannon

Ever feel like you just can’t get caught up? There are always too many things to do and never enough time to do it all. As a result, you get stressed, often ruminating on the unchecked boxes on the neverending to-do list.

I know this feeling well. I pour myself into my commitments – both at work and at home. There is always something I need to be doing and never enough time to do it.

Several years ago, my sister helped me change my perspective on stress as I vented to her about the seemingly endless to-do list in front of me. No matter how hard I tried, I never seemed to get ahead, and the list only got longer. Her advice – find an acceptable level of behind. 

This caught me by surprise; how could there be an acceptable level of behind? It was only after pausing to reflect and contemplate her words more fully that I accepted the wisdom therein. Since that day, I’ve practiced being more accepting.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the process:

Catching up is an illusion. Here’s the harsh reality: I will never catch up. While unsettling, I will always be pulled in more directions than I can support. Once I accepted that the to-do list never becomes the all-done list, I stopped chasing an unobtainable reality.

Learning to prioritize is a must. Accepting I will never get it all done means I must determine the most important things to do. There are tons of productivity tools out there to help you filter your tasks, but honestly, don’t overthink it. I take my to-do list and put each item into one of three categories: 1- I need to do; 2- Someone else needs to or can do; 3- Nice but not necessary to do. Learning to prioritize is critical, especially when your plate is too full.

Making deliberate choices is what keeps you moving. Prioritizing my to-do list allows me to make deliberate choices about where I will and will not spend my time. That means adding important items to my calendar and holding myself accountable to completing them. By making deliberate choices, I am exerting ownership of the things I choose to fill up my time.

Pressure and stress can be paralyzing, freezing us in place under the mountain of to-do’s in front of us. Accepting some level of behind can ease the pressure a bit, allowing you to prioritize and make deliberate choices about how best to lead.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through an innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.