How life set on overdrive and a health crisis brought one UBER achiever to her knees — and how list-making revealed a new way to do it all
We’ve become a society obsessed with being busy and doing more. It’s like a badge of honor to be spread too thin. The truth is that kind of thinking feeds the ego and leads to burnout.
I know because it happened to me.
A year after my first book, Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed, was published my appendix burst.
That’s a very dramatic and dangerous way for your body to tell you to slow down and reprioritize.
I was too busy to listen to the signs my body was sending me.
I didn’t have time to go to the emergency room and so instead I waited too long. Two days too long.
When I finally got to the ER my appendix had ruptured and I needed emergency surgery, followed by another procedure to pull toxins out of my body. In total, I spent eight days in the hospital, six weeks out of work and more than a year recovering.
Launching a book is like having a business and I was saying yes to every networking event, every media inquiry and every speaking engagement. Plus, at the time I was working full-time as a senior health producer at Fox News Channel in New York City. I was juggling all my responsibilities at work, my side hustle, plus all that goes into being a wife, daughter and friend too.
I needed to get back on track. I had no choice but to embrace a new mantra, “Rest is the New Hustle.”
I took everything off my plate. Every appointment, every project, everything. Sometimes just washing my hair was the one thing I did for the day. It gave me a new perspective into how much we put on our plates and what really matters most.
That’s what I had in mind when I was writing my second book, Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You. Most of the pressure and stress we are under is self-inflicted and it doesn’t need to be that way. An early reader of the book put it best — she said “the hustle that got you here won’t get you there.” I was stressed, unhappy and needed structure to identify what was truly my priority.
“Rest Is The New Hustle” is a mantra I use when I think I need to do more. Sometimes it’s about doing less and allowing yourself some time to pause and evaluate before jumping in.
To be clear — I’m not saying that taking everything off your to-do list is this magical technique that will alleviate all stress and create the happiness that you’ve always wanted. That’s just not realistic. Instead, I’d like you to consider being more intentional about what you do — and to allow yourself to evaluate if it’s truly worthy of your time. You might be surprised.
The World Health Organization officially recognizes burnout as a condition now. People are taking it more seriously. Nearly 90 percent of all doctor visits are stress related. Stress can tear you apart — body, mind, and soul. It’s so important to have your priorities in place so you can put the right things on your to-do list and avoid burnout.
Here’s an exercise I take readers through in Listful Living:
PRIORITIZE YOUR LIFE
#1: What are your top priorities in life? Think really high-level here — what matters to you most overall? Make a list of those things. You can list anything like sleep, money, nutrition, family, meditation, etc.
#2: Take that list and put it in value order. One is the most important and 10 is the least important.
#3: What is your #1 top priority right now? This will probably change over time. But what is true right now? And make sure to be realistic. This shouldn’t be the thing you wished was your priority, but rather the thing that actually is your priority.
Now that you know this priority, it becomes the lens through which you will look at the world. For instance, if sleep is your #1 priority, then when someone asks you to go to a networking event in the evening you’ll instantly know you can’t attend. It would interfere with your core priority. That doesn’t mean you’re never going to an event again, but it means right now you’re going to pass.
EXAMINE YOUR STRESS STYLE
#1: Pick one scene from the last two months where you felt over-the-top stressed out.
Be as descriptive as possible — use your five senses to remember what you were feeling. Give yourself 10 minutes to write freely about that scene.
#2: How did that feel?
List out how you felt specifically after that very stressful moment in your recent memory. Use single words or phrases to describe your feelings from the scene.
#3: List out briefly three other times you’ve felt very stressed out over the past year.
#4: Ok now what did you get from this exercise? What is the recurring theme? What are the similarities in these scenes? Perhaps the same person or place pops up in these stressful situations. Right now is not the time for judgment — you’re simply observing. Write those common themes down.
Next I’d suggest doing similar exercises to uncover what you’d like your life, your stress levels and your productivity to look like. That’s what I’ve done in Listful Living. It’s designed in three parts very intentionally. The first part is where you look at your life without judgement, the second is where you dream about what you’d love your life to look like and then the third part is all about how to practically bring those pieces together. It’s a formula that I’ve used in my own life time and time again and I’m hoping this list-making tool can help you too.
Look. Dream. Practice.
You may also enjoy reading Chronic Stress: The Silent Hormone (and Life) Hijacker, by Dr. Stephanie Gray