November 2, 2021

Episode 11: My to do list is crushing me

Let’s look at time from a different angle than what you’re used to, and show you how to create time where it currently goes to waste.

What you will discover

  • The force that creates or wastes time for everyone
  • The real reason you’re overwhelmed by your to do list
  • What we discover when we take a closer look at stress
  • Why prioritizing, delegating, and saying no won’t solve the situation
  • How to replace stress with focus and efficiency
  • The real question you should ask yourself about time
  • The one and only trade-off outstanding time management actually requires
  • One skill to rule them all


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

Your feelings actually create your time or waste your time. Hi, welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo.  So you might think that the hardest part of doing a podcast is to find a topic and things like that.

But the true hardest part of recording a podcast is to get in control of the cat. So I always think that I can control my cat and that I know exactly what her sleeping patterns are and I know when I should record the podcast so that she doesn't come in and barge in and interrupt, but apparently, the one thing I could never control in this world is my cat. I can control my mind much easier that I can control her. So I'm a re-recording this episode because there was a lot of meowing in the previous version. And I hope that this one will be [a bit,] a bit calmer.

Many people are interested in applying the tools that I share on this podcast, but they tell me that they cannot find the time. And this is what I would like to address today. If it's the case, you might find yourself having so many things to do that you cannot fit in the 10 minutes or 15 minutes it takes every day to do work on your mind and to manage your mindset.

And it seems that you're not seeing the end of it because it doesn't matter how much you complete or how late you work, there's always new stuff popping up. So I used to a project manager myself and I know exactly [what] what you might feel like, because I used to manage big projects with lots of people working on them and tons of different topics and risks to be managed and stakeholders that had different priorities and ladidadida.

And my job was to bring all this together and make sure that we delivered the expected result at the expected cost in the expected time. And I remember that it seemed that sometimes as soon as I had closed one item, almost automatically three or four new ones would appear on my to-do list. Almost as if the closing of one item was what mechanically opened the opening of the new ones.

And it's sometimes felt like [the] the hydra in the 12 labors of Hercules, if you're familiar with that? You know, every time you cut one of the heads of the hydras, two or three new ones grow in in its stead. So today, I want to help you overcome that by looking at time from a completely different perspective that you might not have heard before.

And the main takeaway that I want you two to have from today's episode is that time is created or wasted by your feelings.  And that might be very counterintuitive because we all have the same amount of hours every day, but time indeed doesn't change, but the way you think about it changes your experience of time and when you change your experience of time, you can change the way or you can change the amount that you accomplished in a set period of time.

So, think about it for a second: when you're bored every single minute just drags on like an hour. And when you're stressed, it doesn't matter how much time we add to your day, we could give you like 8 extra hours every day, you would still not be able to do everything that you want to do. And when you're in flow, or when your love also for that matter, time ceases to exist.

And you can think of lots of different feelings and you will notice that your experience of time changes profoundly depending on what feeling that you're in. And it's really the way that you're feeling that creates your experience of time. And more importantly, what you do with this time. When you're feeling motivated and effective, you achieve a lot in the five minutes that you might have between two meetings, for example.

So you can go to the bathroom; you can read the notes to prepare yourself for the next meeting; maybe you can text a guy about something; you have time to grab a coffee... I mean, you're very, very, very efficient in those five minutes when you're feeling motivated and effective. And if you're feeling anxious, in the same five minutes, you will probably achieve nothing.

And even if you had 30 minutes between the meetings, you might not even achieve a simple thing like sending a text to someone or reading your notes to prepare for [the next] the next meeting. So it's really important to understand that your feelings actually create your time or waste your time, depending on what they are.

And the real reason that you're feeling overwhelmed, or exhausted, or swamped by your to-do list; it's not because of the amount of things to do and the amount of time that you have to do them. It's because you're not dealing with your feelings. And as I keep on saying like a broken record, your feelings are not created by the situation you are in.

So your feelings are not created by the number of things on your to-do list or the number of hours and minutes that you have in front of you to do them. They are created by your thoughts. The stress, the overwhelm, the resentment, they're all created by the way you're thinking about the situation. So let me give you an example.

Imagine that you have a long to-do list. Let's imagine a long to-do list on which you have 46 things. 46 things is very difficult thing to say for a French person speaking English. So 46 things that need to be done this week. And on top of that you’re already requested to attend meetings for let's say six to eight hours of every day Monday to Friday this week.

So you have 46 things that you need to achieve. But at the same time, you know that already six to eight hours of every single day, you're going to be in meetings. And in that situation it’s very easy to believe “I'll never have enough time to do everything.” And of course when you believe that, you're going to feel stressed.

So if you remember the Model that I explained in episode 6, what we've just done now is to describe the circumstances that you're in. So the pure neutral facts of the situation, which is 46 items on your to-do list; six to eight hours of meetings every day. We've described the thought that you have which is, I'll never have enough time to do everything.

And then we've described the feeling that this thought creates for you and that feeling is stress. So now, the next thing we want to identify is how you're going to behave about your to-do list, or how you do behave about your to-do list and the meetings that you're going to attend, when you feel stressed because you believe, I'll never have enough time to do everything.

So typically what you're going to do from stress is that you're going to spend a lot of time in your mind visualizing the big huge mountain of things to do and remembering things that you actually forgot to put on your list. So it's not really 46 things, but it's actually 52.

And you're only going to look at that list from the point of view of everything that should be on it and you're not going to look at it from the point of view of what could be removed from it. And you're going to also show yourself the very small and thin amount of time that you have, when you don't have meetings and when you can actually work on getting those 52 things done.

And you're going to think that you okay, I'll work in the evening and then immediately as you have that thought, like a boomerang, you're going to remember some more personal things that you also need to get done this week. So for example, this is the week where your friend has a birthday party and you really cannot not attend;

and this means that you're going to be leaving work at five o'clock on Wednesday. And so you're not going to be able to get some work done that evening. And so, here we go, now we have 53 things on the list. Oh, yeah, right. And you've also promised lunch to your former mentor and since you've already postponed twice the lunch with him, then you really cannot postpone it once more.

So that would be way too rude and it would damage the relationship. So now you have 54 things on the list. And when you're in your meetings, your mind is going to mull over on how this specific meeting is a waste of your time and how you would be so much better off if you could use that time to start to make a dent in the list of 54 things.

Oh, damn, dent. That reminds me that I'm going to the dentist on Friday. So now I have 55 things on that list. So you see from being stressed, what happens is that you're seeing more and more clearly how the list of things to do is huge and how its permanently growing; and how the amount of time available seems to be shrinking.

And what you're probably also doing is considering all the different ways to free up some time. And then for every single one of them, you're going to shoot it down. You're going to identify how it's actually not feasible. So as soon as you imagine a solution like postponing that lunch with your mentor, you immediately see why it's not feasible.

And all this time, what you're not doing is that you're not working on very efficiently producing what needs to get done. You're not listing what are the one or two actual priorities that you must work on. You’re not creatively thinking of the one thing you could do that would solve most of the problems on your list. So I'm not saying that there is always one;

but I'm saying that if you don't look for that one thing that would solve most of the other problems, you're not going to find it. And as a result, you're not really doing anything or at least not doing anything effectively and you're wasting a lot of time. So when you believe that, “I'll never have enough time to do everything”;

when you believe that this is an accurate and factual description of reality – when in fact it’s just a way to look at your situation. There are other ways and we're going to soon look at some of them. When you believe “I'll never have enough time to do everything” as a result, you waste time and you don't do things. So you prove the thought true, in a way.

And again, here, I want to highlight that mechanism. When you believe a thought about your situation, that sort creates a feeling (stress in this case); and the feeling makes you act in a certain way. And the result of the way you've been acting is that you confirm in some way or form that the thought is true.

And the good news is, since you are creating this feeling of stress by yourself, by your own thoughts; you can also stop doing that and create more useful feelings, by changing your thoughts. There's a way to look at exactly the same situation of 55 things on your to-do list and anyway feel confident, competent, proud, curious, playful even...

That will make you work much more efficiently and take action that will actually get you closer to your goal of closing down that to-do list. So I'll give you first a little of examples of things that waste a lot of time for us. And typically the thoughts that we have that waste a lot of time for us create the following feelings or actions.

So the first thing that we can do is that we worry. We worry a lot about the fact that we are not going to have time to do what we want to do. But also it can be that we stay in indecision and in confusion. So we hesitate between options and we don't really progress towards one. Or we people-please; we say yes when what we really would need to do is to say no.

Or we do things that nobody has asked us to do, because we think that will make somebody happy or at least not mad. Maybe we buffer. So buffering means that [we,] we take some action that distracts us from what we are actually supposed to be doing which makes us feel quite uncomfortable. So, for example, we overeat or we over-drink; we go shopping till we drop, we overwork...

Any “over-thing” that we do: it can be gambling. It can be pornography. I mean, there's so many different ways to buffer. What we also do is that we regret. We start to think, okay, if I had not done that choice, if I had not taken that choice last week or two weeks ago, I would not be in this situation. And so we mull over the regret instead of getting things done.

Sometimes we regret in advance also. So we imagine that if we choose this, or if we don't do that, we’re going to regret later on. And so we mull over that, instead. We blame ourselves. And so many more things that we do that waste our time. But if you could eliminate all of these things from your life, you would have so much more time available to actually do what's on your to-do list.

And I really want you to understand something, which is that since your feelings are created by the way you think about your situation; changing your situation is not going to solve the problem. And that's very counterintuitive.

And if you're anything like me, if you have a long to-do list, what you're going to want to do is to work on it so that you can take that list from 55 things to, for example 30 things, and then you'll feel better. But what you're not seeing behind the scenes is that it's not because your to-do list has 30 things, or 55 things that you feel the way you feel.

It's because when your to-do list was at 55 things this morning and at 30 things tonight, you believe certain thoughts. And when your to-do list was at 46 things this morning and 55 tonight, you believe other thoughts.  You just allowing your thoughts [to pop up, to,] to pop up by themselves based on your circumstances.

And the problem with that is that when you believe that your situation creates your feelings, you're going to try to solve this external problem in order to feel better, of course. But if you don't work on your thoughts and change them first, they're going to pop back up sooner or later. And so if you think that the issue is that you work too long hours, you're going to try to work less hours.

Or if you think that the problem is the number of activities that you do, you're going to try to get rid of things. Or if you think that the problems is your skills, you're going to try to increase your knowledge. If you think that the problem is your boss, you're going to try to change boss or keep them in check, etc, etc.

But if you change your circumstances without first changing your thoughts, what's going to happen is that for a little while, everything is going to feel great. And you're going to have this honeymoon period where everything feels better, but then it's just a matter of time before your bad thoughts are going to boomerang back to you; even though your circumstances have changed.

And then you're not going to understand why you still feel overwhelmed and stressed even though you’re working less hours or you have less responsibilities. And that's because the only way to change your feelings and to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed is to change your thoughts. So, how to do that. How do you change your thoughts about your workload?

Well, the first step is you start by understanding how you currently use your time. What you currently use it for. And there, you need to be curious, sincerely, curious. I mean, really be interested at how you spend every minute of every hour; and you need to be honest. To really tell you the truth about how you are actually using that that time.

And there might be things that you're not proud of, there might be things that you even ashamed off, but you're talking to yourself. So you're allowed to be very honest. Nobody else will know. And just be very open as to how you actually use your time. But don't make the mistake of being aggressive to yourself or condescending in any way.

Just be honest, but without using this as a way to beat yourself up. So what I mean by being honest is, don’t tell yourself that you've been working on the report that you're supposed to produce for two hours if what you've actually done is worry in your mind that you're never going to produce a report of good enough quality and you've been worrying for an hour and a half. So what you've done is that you've worked on the report for 30 minutes and you've worried for 90 minutes.

[And don't tell yourself] When you're attending a meeting, don't tell yourself that you are attending a meeting if what you're actually doing in your head is telling yourself what a waste of time this meeting is, and you should have said no, and why does this person insist on inviting you to these time-consuming meetings in which you don't have anything to contribute, etc.

Because what you've been doing for the whole time of the meeting is to blame yourself and blame the other person. But you've not been adding value to the meeting, and you've not been taking a decision. You didn't get up and say, sorry guys, but I need to be elsewhere. So you need to make a real assessment. How do you currently use your time, and are you using it productively?

And are you using it for all these time-consuming activities I mentioned, like worrying and people-pleasing and beating up yourself. You need to be very clear on how you actually spend your time. And where you're currently spending your time is a reflection of your thoughts and beliefs. Because if you're very clear and crisp and very effective, you're going to use your time in a very clear, crisp, and effective way. So take a moment and decide what you want to use your life for.

What do you value so much that you're ready to pay the ultimate price for it, which is the price of time? What is not worth paying that price of time for? What don't you want to waste time on anymore? And I'm on purpose taking this very big words like wasting your life on something when I'm talking about a meeting, but it's very true. I mean money that you spend, you can always make it back later.

But time that you spend is gone forever. So identify really, in an ideal world, what do you want to spend your time on, and what you do not want to spend your time on. And then you're going to have to face the discomfort of following through on what you have just identified.

[So when you're] when you start to think about your situation in this new way, so for example, I don't want to attend this and this meeting and I will not do this and that report because these are not the priorities I should be focusing on in order to make a real contribution to my [company's] company's goal for example; when you start to think about it that way, your brain is going to rebel.

That's the way it works. Your brain is going to want you to go back to your comfort zone, to what's familiar. And I want to emphasize that familiar does not mean happy. Familiar does not really mean comfortable. The comfort zone – this is a very bad name for what this is; it's the familiar zone.

So, if you've been keeping yourself busy and miserable for the past few weeks, busy and miserable is the comfort zone, right? That's a little bit also counterintuitive. We tend not to think of it like this. Personally, when I imagine the comfort zone, I imagine myself in a hammock with a nice daiquiri in my hand or mojito, or something like that, and the sound of the ocean nearby.

But that's not the comfort zone. The comfort zone is just what you do regularly. So if your brain thinks something is familiar, your brain think that it's okay that you're doing this thing. So, if you've been keeping yourself busy and miserable for the past few weeks, your brain thinks that busy and miserable is okay. Because you wake up every morning, you’re still alive.

So busy and miserable is a good way to stay alive. And that's what your brain likes. So it's just going to want to continue to overwork yourself. So if you have identified that what you need to do is you need to say no to someone or maybe you need to stick to your plans no matter what emails pop up or you need to finish work at 5:00.

You need to identify what is the discomfort that I'm going to need to face. Because if you would say no, if you would stick to your plan or if you would finish work at five, you're going to have a lot of unpleasant thoughts [that are create] that are going to create unpleasant feelings. And that unusual discomfort will make your brain feel threatened and your brain is going to try to avoid it at any cost.

So if you want to change things, and stop feeling so overwhelmed by your to-do list and start to get effectively to work, I'm pretty sure that you already have an idea of what you need to do. Maybe you need to start prioritizing; maybe you need to say no to a few things. Maybe you need to do the things that you have said you would do in exactly the time that you have allocated for them and not a minute longer.

Maybe you need to constrain yourself to only work on a certain set of things and not consider any of the other things, etc. So you know what [you do] what to do. But what you're not doing is that you're not considering what it would feel like to actually do these things. So take a moment. If you would say no to participating in that meeting; what are you afraid might happen?

And I'm not talking about a rhetorical question in order for you to immediately notice this, oh, nothing would happen and it would be okay or whatever. No no no; really face the fear. What are you afraid might happen? And what I'm guessing is that you're afraid that your coworker or your boss might think that you're not professional or that you're not a good contributor or you're not a team player or whatever. Actually look at what you're really afraid might happen if you said no.

If you would stick to your calendar, what do you think this might result in? What are you picturing might happen if you would do the things that you have decided to do in the amount of time that you have set for them. Do you think that the quality would drop and that people would think that you're not doing a good job etc? And what would be the consequence of that?

So really look at the discomfort that you're going to have to face in order to take that action. Because what you're doing is that you're making a trade-off between the familiar discomfort of the stress and overwhelm that you are in right now and the unfamiliar discomfort of facing your fear that somebody might think something about you, or the quality of your report might not be at the level you would wish it to be etc.

And this trade-off, when you're not conscious about it, it pushes you to choose and to stick to the familiar discomfort of overwhelm and stress. But what I would like you to consider, is that the unfamiliar discomfort will give you much more benefit.  So, let me give you two examples of what it means to change your thoughts to create more time to face that discomfort.

So the first example I'll take is sticking to your plan. So what I'm guessing is that right now, you have maybe planned your day a certain way. So, you know what you want to deliver at the end of the day. What meetings you're going to attend, what it looks like. But then you get last minute requests; and so, you ditch your plans in order to accommodate those last-minute requests.

Or maybe you had allocated a specific amount of time to write a report and you allow it to take three times the time to complete because you wanted to make it much better. And so you're spending more time that you had imagined.  But right now what's happening, the reason you're doing these things, is that you're thinking something like, “I cannot turn down this request”.

“This thing that I planned is my own request by myself so it's not so important.” “I should be able to do everything.” And those thoughts, they create a lot of stress. And what you need to do is instead, you need to refocus your mind on why do you want to actually stick to your plan even though it's uncomfortable.

Why do you want to not look at those last-minute requests and do what you had planned to do, even though it's uncomfortable.  Why do you want to write this report in the amount of time you had set and not a minute longer, even though that's very uncomfortable. And by choosing more purposeful thoughts; so by telling yourself why you want to focus like this, you're going to create useful feelings for yourself.

Such as determination, clear-headedness, efficiency, motivation maybe, focus... And from those feelings, you're going to be so much more efficient. I want you to imagine that the brain works a little bit like a like a cinema. You know, when you're in a cinema and you're really engrossed in the movie; the movie is so interesting that you're completely lost in it?

And you're not conscious of yourself anymore. You're just completely in the story. Well, that's your stress. The story that's unfolding on the screen, that's the story that is creating your stress. And what I want you to do is I want you to take a step, a little step back and look at where you actually are. You're sitting in a theater. If you look to the right, you see some guys with popcorn on their lap.

If you look to the left you see your coat, maybe that you that you put there and you see other seats. You see other patrons in the theater, right? And when you do that, you're able to notice that what you were so afraid of is just a movie on the screen and you can completely… You can get up, get out of that room and go to see another movie, a movie that is actually a more enjoyable for you.

And the only way to do that. The only way to do that is to practice. So some of you might find it very easy to do it right away to achieve that on the first try; and some of you it might take a while. It took me a while to get that down. And even now I don't do it perfectly all the time. Even now very often I need the help of another coach or I need to spend some time working on my mind in order to notice that this is just a movie, but it always works. If you try to do it, it always works.

So let me give you another example also, of how you can reframe your mind around your to-do list. It's when you want to say no. So you're painfully aware that you would need to say no to that task or no to that meeting. But you're letting your brain tell you otherwise. You're allowing your brain to tell you things that you believe as if they were the only truth.

So you're letting your brain think “they will think I'm not professional if I say no.” “I set that deadline myself so I need to achieve it.” “I will let them down if I don't attend that meeting” and all of these are just angles of view, it’s just one way to look at the situation. And instead, what you can think about is what you're going to be able to deliver when you say no to this extra thing.

So really think, what am I saying yes to when I'm saying no to that thing. What are you making possible when you say no? Which ways are you actually an awesome person for being able to prioritize like this and to keep a cool head in this situation, right? So, that's the way you can reframe.

So learning how to change your thoughts about your situation is really the skill that you need to acquire if you want to get on top of your workload and not feel stressed about it. No matter if you have 46 things or 55 things or 110 things. It has nothing to do with changing your circumstances. You don't need to have less things to do. You don't need to have more time to do it.

You don't need to have a more reasonable boss or reasonable client. You don't need to have a better skill at this or at that, you don't need to change your character. You don't need to change your DNA. None of that is needed. All you need to do is to change the sentences that are playing in your head, and that trick might sound a little mysterious the first time you hear about it;

but what I have explained it's exactly the skill you already have of being in the cinema and moving your focus away from the fascinating movie on the screen and reminding yourself that you're in a movie theater and looking at the fact that you're actually in a movie theater.

So if you choose more purposeful thoughts, you can create feelings that will help you to get the stuff done. In the notes of the episode, I have listed a few great thoughts that you can play with in order to find the thoughts that will work for you. So I've highlighted a number of things like the popcorn on the other guy's lap, or your coat on the left that you can use as anchors to notice what's actually going on for you and to refocus on other thoughts.

And if you don't want to do this uncomfortable work of changing your thoughts, the only other possibility that I know of, it's to get a lobotomy and get rid of your brain because that will very efficiently get rid of your thoughts. But I have to warn you that there's a few known side effects. So I don't actually recommend that option.

And when you manage to change the movie you're playing, you're going to feel motivated. You're going to feel focused. You're going to feel determined. You're going to feel efficient and all of these feelings are what are going to get you on top of your to-do list. So go ahead and try it. And if you have any questions, just let me know. I'm always super interested on how you implement all this advice that I’m giving you.

If you liked what you heard, you can go to my website That's Excellent Rider in one word dot com and get the episode notes. They are organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember; and there are always additional exercises and illustrations that you don't get in the audio.

And if you really liked what you heard, go to your podcast platform and leave me a review. You can Google it if you're not sure how to proceed. This helps the podcast be more visible; it means that it will be easier to find for other people who need to hear exactly this message. And it's also a great encouragement for me.

If you felt that this information was valuable, it's the absolute best way to let me know. I personally answer everyone who is kind enough to leave a review. Thanks a lot for listening today. I hope to talk to you again very soon because you my friend, even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want to do; even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops;

and even when you don't believe it – especially when you don't believe it – you absolutely rock. And you'll soon be an Excellent Rider. There's no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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