How to do lists can perpetuate your anxiety
Most of us have to do lists, if we have an organized life. In fact, I am often alarmed when my young teens come in to therapy, with no calendar, agenda, or list and tell me they are having trouble keeping track of their assignments at school. No kidding!
If you are a perfectionist, or suffer from any form of an anxiety disorder, to do lists can make you more anxious or can serve as a compulsion to keep you from actually living your life mindfully and meeting your goals. The relentless drive to get things done keeps you perpetually leaning forward. It's difficult to feel content. Rather than help you feel in control, list- making can cause you to feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied.
You might spend endless hours organizing your to dos, downloading and trying out the hundreds of apps, or setting reminders only to find find none of these things really improve your life or make you more happy. If you have anxiety, these are things you do to help gain a sense of control in a world that is out of control. It makes sense to try, but it doesn't work. Your effort would be better spent minimizing your interaction with technology. It will have a far greater impact on your anxiety than these kinds of list making activities ever could.
Many of my anxious clients base their sense of self worth on how many items they are checking off, and they can become more an more anxious because a to do list is never really done. Each brief moment of relief at checking something off is soon met with a new pressing item that must get done that is added to the list. So what should you do to stay on top of your life and not increase your anxiety needlessly?
If you have an off day, it's easy to become discouraged and overwhelmed. What if you get nothing done on yourlist? Then you feel pretty bad about yourself.
A Few Things a Day
I recommend keeping a list of things you "need to do", and things that "you'd like to do". Usually, there aren't more than a few things we have to get done each day. Those items would go on your "need to do" list
Even on your worst day, you can usually accomplish a few things. If you feel great you can move over into your "like to do list". So you may need to make a phone call, pay a bill, and send a card. Focusing on the three things you "need to do" can save you unnecessary stress, endless amounts of time with organizing your list-making, and allow you to spend some time being present.
Set Aside Time to Read and Answer Email and Phone Calls
When you have specific times set aside to check your email for example and to respond, you can avoid unnecessary reminders that have to do with emails and the same with phone calls. You can return emails and phone calls right when you are checking them. We waste a great deal of time mindlessly checking emails and phone messages at all points of the day and then we have to try to remember to return those messages.
Some people who have OCD suffer from a list making compulsion. If you feel that your list making may be part of your OCD, consider if you are writing down routine things on your list that you certainly wont forget such as brushing your teeth. Perhaps you are making lists because you feel something bad might happen if you don't. If so then you may need professional help for you list making, because it is part of your OCD.
You can contact someone who is certified to help with OCD here