Many of us make “to do” lists, though we may use different methods and tools. Regardless of how you create and keep track of them, you’ve likely a lot to accomplish just like most everyone else. Maybe sometimes, maybe often, you simply don’t know where to begin. What task do you tackle first?

Setting priorities can be a struggle. So much, maybe everything, is equally important. So, where do you focus first?

Consistently applying the following three time management principles has helped me tremendously over the years when my “to do” list threatens to consume me.

  1. Refuse to let being overwhelmed stop you. Sometimes we feel too overwhelmed to become less overwhelmed, and we all have too much to do at some point. Learning to work through overwhelm is crucial to overall success and personal satisfaction.
  2. Do what’s next. Ask yourself, “What is due next?” For example, if I have to teach Sunday School on Sunday and have to write a post for the Thursday before, the post obviously comes first. You’ll still feel like you can’t get everything done at times, but eventually this “do what’s next” state of mind creates an “I can only do what I can do” attitude that keeps you moving forward.
  3. Be ready with time fillers. Only have five minutes before the kids get home from school? That’s enough time to sweep the floor, switch laundry, or empty the dishwasher. Have a list of items you can do during in-between times. Instead of doing a mass house cleaning and getting all of these things done before moving on to other work, I integrate them into small times slots within my day. This transfers well into an office with things like making copies, editing a document, reading an article, or answering an email as possible time fillers.

These principles probably seem painfully simple to some people, but they truly create a structure to help keep me focused and from being overwhelmed. Some people schedule and script their day more but doing so never worked well for me. As I mentioned in The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method, though, the best system for managing time and reaching goals is whatever works for you.

Keep trying different methods, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t. Steal ideas from others, knowing that your approach will be a combination of what others do and what you learn through trial and error.

In those overwhelmed moments when you want to run and hide, say a little prayer, then “just do what’s next.” I literally say this phrase to myself, and this approach has kept me sane in the midst of chaos many times over the years.