Do you ever feel overwhelmed the moment you wake up? One of my favourite practices for reducing overwhelm and increasing my productivity is to create my to-do list in the evening.

Doing this takes only a few minutes and has so many benefits.

How planning the night before helps when you feel overwhelmed

I select my priorities

I feel privileged to have a lot of choice and autonomy in how I structure my workday.

The downside of having a lot of choice, however, is that when combined with numerous interests, responsibilities and projects, it can create a frantic pace where “everything” feels important and time-sensitive. In the end, you feel overwhelmed.

As part of my evening planning process, I prioritize the things I want to get done first thing in the morning (early morning, for me, is typically the period between 5:30 am – 7:00 am). I’ve learned to be highly realistic about how long things will take and prefer to overestimate than do the opposite. This then helps me feel a sense of accomplishment because I actually do the things that are on my list.

I avoid the confusion that fuels a tendency to feel swamped

I get up early in the morning and wake up multiple times during the night–which means I’m not well-rested and my mind isn’t super sharp when I rise.  Yet, I love mornings and it’s a time I nearly always dedicate to writing and doing things that require focus. My night-before list clearly identifies a limited number of priorities and the time I’ll spend on each. Via this process, I avoid confusion about what I should be doing and in what order and for how long. That’s way too many decisions for a tired person! Instead, I get going right away, which, for me is immensely satisfying.

Brings calm, instead of chaos

Taking a bit of time in the evening to plan my early morning brings me calm. Instead of feeling swamped, and drained by decision fatigue, I feel serene (on the best days!) because I go to bed knowing what specific tasks I’ll be tackling and how long I will dedicate to them. I also plan whether I’ll go for a run or do some other form of exercise. Your to-do list doesn’t have to be all about work things. You get to put whatever you want on it.


My approach to planning the night before (so I won’t feel overwhelmed as soon as I start my day)

Here’s the process I use:

I use a notebook that is dedicated to my “to-dos”.

  • I used to use slips of recycled paper but would inevitably write something important on one of these and then accidentally put it in the recycling without transferring that key piece of information. This year, I bought myself a simple, but nice looking and feeling notebook and have been using that for all my lists and planning.

I spend about 10-15 minutes writing, in pencil, what I’d like to get done early the next day.

  • I include both work-related tasks and personal tasks.

I prioritize and limit the number of tasks/activities.

  • I aim to be realistic about how long I will spend on each task.


If you have a tendency to lose time in the morning figuring out what to do–maybe even starting one thing and then deciding to switch to another almost right away, try creating a short, focussed to-do list in the evening. I’m not suggesting that every moment of the day has to be productive, but if mornings ARE typically a period when you enjoy getting things done, your night-before-list will help make the most of that time.


Are you an ambitious perfectionist who works in higher education and wants to reduce overwhelm in your day-to-day work? Let’s discuss how I can support you to meet your goals. Reach out to me to find out how coaching can help.


Photo credit: Cottonbro

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