How to survive with an endless to-do list

In our personal and professional lives, most of us have to live with a never-ending list of tasks. Just for example, on my list of personal things to do, aside from the weekly chores, there are movies and TV shows that I want to watch, video games that I want to play, some renovations to get started, a list of blog posts I’d like to write as long as my arm, side projects to work on and parties and events to attend to. If I could focus on the list and just do that, I would still need months to do all of it.

On the professional side of things, as part of a very quickly growing startup, the list of bug fixes, new features and maintenance tasks to work on is enourmous (and I love it).

For most people, having such a huge list of things to do with no end in sight can be very stressful. So here’s how to survive with an endless to-do list.

Accept the fact that the list will never be empty

If your list ever became empty, you’d be bored or unemployed. That’s what life is all about, there are always more things to do. Now that you’re ok with having a never-ending list, focus on the more pressing matters and do it well so that you don’t add yourself some unecessary work further down the line to fix a rushed job.

Make the distinction between have-to and want-to

Once you start thinking whether tasks belong to the have-to or the want-to category, you will find out that not a lot of things really have to be done. Once your basic needs and those of your family are taken care of, the rest is luxury and a nice bonus. There’s really no point in worrying about not doing unimportant things.


Some things need to be done right now while others can be done later. Take note of when you should start worrying about a task in a calendar and forget about it until it becomes important. You can also keep track of such tasks in something like a bullet journal or even a simple to-do list app that supports due dates. And if every task is urgent, then none of them are.

Forget about the list

That’s right, forget about keeping track of everything you have/want to do in your life/job. The really important stuff tends to get our attention anyway. Only take note of the life/job threatening tasks on post-its and do them as soon as possible.

Follow these 4 recommendations and you will start feeling much better.

Michel Billard's profile picture

A web developer's musings on software, product management, and other vaguely related topics.