Like many of you, my to-do list is fierce. I am positive I could work all day every day (and all night too!) and still have things left to do. Because seriously, new things tend to come up to fill any empty space! That’s how life works.

I feel like I am always struggling to “catch up” or “get ahead.” But weeks and weekends fly by with me neither caught up nor ahead. For every three things I check off my to-do list, another five go on. It doesn’t matter how many yoga classes or dinners or events I skip in the name of getting things done, the list persists. Am I overly ambitious? Sure. Most recovering perfectionists are. I want to do it all and have it all. I want to be a productivity queen but what I learned was worshipping at the altar of busy only got me frustrated, lonely, burnt out, and kind of crabby.

I think that one of life’s most important lessons is that most things can wait. You can’t.

Grading, an analysis, a paper , your sixty new e-mails— you name it — if you take fifteen minutes, or an hour (or heck, even a whole night or weekend!) to recharge your batteries… all those things will still be there waiting for you. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances like a midnight deadline (you know, like, one that actually matters) but chances are that pile of “to do” staring you in the face isn’t do or die. And, you can probably risk taking some time for yourself.

For me, a chronic setter of insane deadlines and task-maker extraordinaire, it took a health crisis to slow me down. My final year of graduate school with an impending dissertation deadline, a cancer scare and series of surgeries knocked me off my game.

I wasn’t given a choice — I had to renegotiate deadlines and I had to make space for more rest. And, thank god, because what I learned was that asking for more time or support did not cause the world to end.

Later that year when I was writing my dissertation, I kept testing out this uncomfortable idea of putting myself first. With my mind full of hundreds of things left to do, I would slowly back away from the computer to hit up a yoga class or go for a walk. And my goodness, those were minutes well spent. I would come back to my work rejuvenated a feel easily a thousand times more productive than I did when I threw my self-care aside and chained myself to the desk in the name of productivity. I was happier, healthier, AND more productive. Win. Win. Win.

If you want to be happy and healthy and productive, you don’t have to work harder, find more hours in the day, or get an IV of caffeine to make it through. You have to work smarter, and you have to practice making work-life boundaries and living with the discomfort of not being perfect all of the time — the discomfort of being “unfinished.”

How do you do it? Baby steps. Boundaries aren’t formed overnight. And like most of life’s great lessons, you learn by testing it out.

Your to-do list can wait. You — your happiness and your health CAN’T. Well, technically, you can — in fact for many of us, we do wait. And, days… months… years… go by and we’re not happy or healthy, and we STILL have a to do list.

So, when you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, take a step back and ask yourself: What can I do to feel happier? Calmer? Stronger? More relaxed? And, whatever that little voice inside of you says … go do it 🙂

Originally published at


  • Kirsten Lee Hill, Ph.D.

    Researcher, Creative, Entrepreneur

    Kirsten Lee Hill, Ph.D. is an expert in creatively leveraging traditional research expertise to support community-driven change, and has worked with global leaders in innovation such as Virgin Unite and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Kirsten partners with people and organizations with inspiring ideas for how to change the world so they can leverage the powers of research and personal wellbeing to advance their cause. She also inspires changemakers to embrace gracefully breaking rules through her podcast, Graceful Rulebreakers.