to do listGay Landeta

Fed up with being overwhelmed by too much to do?

It is more and more often recognised as a primary source of stress. Multi tasking has become a nightmare of competing priorities, often resulting in jobs completed at less than our best. In fact, research is showing that multi-tasking is proving far less effective than we thought. Focusing on one job to its completion seems to produce better results and less overwhelm.

  • But how to learn to have that much focus – especially if you are a natural multi-tasker?
  • How can you train your mind to stay focused on just one thing when all those other tasks are screaming for attention?
  • How is it possible to capture the attention of your un-focused mind?

Most of us can do this easily with something we want to do. If something is interesting or urgent enough we become engaged and can remain focused. Often, however, it can become difficult to disengage or even stop for dinner!!

If we look at that from the perspective of the Dynamic Brain Model we use in Brain Gym we see that the person in overwhelm is stuck in their gestalt brain. Everything is big picture, there is no clarity about what details need to be attended to first.

On the other hand, the over-focused person, the one who can’t disengage, has become stuck in the logic brain and the details and has lost sight of the big picture. Once that happens it is difficult to care what else is happening, all that matters is getting this task done. Self care or care for others falls by the wayside.

Most of us have a tendency to one or the other – or even more frustratingly flit from one to the other.

So how to develop the ability to engage fully with a task while maintaining the big picture?

As a Brain Gym Instructor I know that Brain Gym always helps but I also rely on a few other strategies. I have included three of my favourite ones here that help the brain learn to engage and disengage without getting stuck. To start you need a pen, paper and a timer (time is a logic brain function. Using time helps it switch on). If you don’t have one you can google one and download it to the computer desktop.


This first process is fundamental to success. Write down a to-do list. Many people just keep these in their head and wake up at night stressing about more things that need to be added. It can be as creative as you like just get it down on paper. To stop overwhelm, make this a master list of everything you want to or need to do and when you get a light bulb moment add it to the list.

TIP *DO NOT use this master list as your day to day to-do list.*

Once a week (or month) review your master list and take the items you KNOW you can complete in this next period of time and put it on your current To Do list. Make this list definitive and extremely achievable in the time you have allowed.

Then each morning just choose the items need to happen today and put that on your Daily To Do list. Again, make it achievable, you can always go back to the master list.

TIP *Make sure you leave free space for those emergencies that crop up, no one can control everything!*

Then, each day, start on the most important and, if possible, the least liked item (get it out of the way!) and work your way through.

The time you have just spent planning your day may well have switched on your logical brain function so you can enter into the task with focus, especially if you started your planning with some Brain Gym.

This step seems very simple but I still recall the relief and relaxation I felt when I started doing this instead of trying to remember everything!


This next process is perfect when you have one big thing you need to get done and are procrastinating either by avoiding it or by spending more time fiddling than actually completing the task.

It is also good if you need to do something boring, like data entry or sorting out a closet, something that may feel like it will take forever.

Start by taking your timer and put it on for 20 minutes. Then start the project. Do not allow yourself to do anything else until that timer goes off. Once it goes off you get a reward! You can go for a walk, have something to eat, look at the trees, have a cup of tea – anything that is nice for you. If the job is still not completed then once you have spent about 20 minutes doing the nice thing you can then once again set your timer and go for it.

The trick is to keep up this pattern until the job is complete.

Your brain knows that you will only be working a short while before you get to do something nice and, mostly, that carrot, combined with the necessity of getting the job done is enough. If you are really easily distracted, really dislike the job or are using this with a child you may need to decrease the work time to 10 or even 5 minutes. You can then gradually increase it until you, or your child, can work for 20 minutes without distraction.

Note : You may be able to increase the time from 20 minutes however most people do their best work in periods of no more than 20 – 30 minutes. If you extend it for much longer than that you may find you end up distracting yourself with the lesser or non-important aspects of the job in the guise of keeping on keeping on. For example, how long can some people spend making the report format look nice!


This process is great when you have many jobs with competing priority, i.e. you just don’t know where to start. It is also useful if you have one big job or project that needs to be done but lots of other little niggly things are calling for attention. For example, if you are trying to complete a report but emails and other projects are getting in the way.

Start by listing the jobs to be done, eg the first time I tried this I had a uni assignment due in a day or so but I was having a great deal of trouble getting my head around it. I also had no clean clothes and a house that was so messy I could not focus, people coming over for dinner and admin work that needed to get done. I was ineffectively jumping from item to item without getting anything done.

My list looked like:

  1. wash clothes
  2. clean house
  3. uni assignment
  4. make dinner
  5. answer emails
  6. enter MYOB data

Overwhelming right? I actually got it all done, without stress.


1. Write out your list and add ’10 / 20 / 30′ after each one.

ie. my list looked like:

  • wash clothes 10 / 20 / 30
  • clean house 10 / 20 / 30
  • uni assignment 10 / 20 / 30
  • make dinner 10 / 20 / 30
  • answer emails 10 / 20 / 30
  • enter MYOB data 10 / 20 / 30

2. Then just start doing each item in order for only 10 minutes. Doesn’t matter that 10 minutes into the washing time the clothes aren’t even sorted, just move onto the next item. Once everything has been done for 10 minutes go back to the top of the list and do each for 20 minutes, then back to the top and do each for 30 minutes. If you run out of a job then move onto the next item, for example, 5 minutes into my 20 minute block for washing clothes they were in the machine, nothing else I could do, so onto cleaning the house for 20 minutes. Once each job is completed cross it off.

Often projects take much less or much more time than we think. This way you do not need to figure out how long it will take or stress about having enough time to get everything done. In addition, the structure of the process helps the brain to organise itself and have time to get focused. I kept rotating through that list and crossing off each completed item till I just had the assignment left. By then my brain had warmed up to the task and was more than ready to focus on it and get it done. And when people arrived the place was clean, I felt happy with my progress with my assignment and dinner was ready!

I know without doing that process people would have arrived to a messy house with the washing half done and dinner barely started – I may have managed to give the day to my assignment but in a stressful way that would have left me disconnected to my own needs of pleasant surroundings and companionship.

Give these processes a try – and let me know how you go….

Here’s to getting stuff done!

To find out more about the information in this blog or seek out some support to better manage your time/tasks/jobs email me at [email protected]

Copyright © 2014 Gay Landeta. All Rights Reserved.