How to be Mindful When You’re Busy and Drowning in Your To-Do List

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how to be mindful when you're busy

The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” Abraham Maslow

One of the key skills for happiness is to be mindful and aware in the present moment.

But unless you’ve been practising your zen, it’s not easy to be mindful when you’re busy.

There are many thoughts that tug our mind away from the present moment but  the loudest thoughts are usually things that need doing.

I find this is particularly true when I’m at home with the kids. What they need is my presence and attention. What they often get is a mum distracted by thoughts of the washing that needs bringing in and dinner that needs cooking.

If you find yourself thinking more about what needs to be done, and less about what’s going on right here, right now, these three practical tips can help you get your to-dos under control so that you have the mental space to live in full awareness of the present moment.


A lot of what buzzes around our head is repetitive because we’re afraid we might forget something.

“Must remember to post that letter. Must remember to post that letter…what were you saying?”

A brain dump list comes in handy here.

A list is like a second brain. It’s somewhere you can jot down all those thoughts swimming around in your brain.

When a to-do item comes to mind, write it down on a list so you can get back to being present in the moment.

By writing things down, you no longer have to worry that tasks will be forgotten and you’ve given yourself some breathing space to be here and now.

Later, take a quick look at your list. Beside each item, write down how long it will take to complete each task.

Then add that time up.

How realistic is to do all those things in a day?

I’ll bet not very realistic at all. Which is why we come to the next step.


It’s impossible to slow down and savour each moment if you’ve got too much to do.

If your to-do lists are longer than there are hours in the day then you will always find yourself rushing from one task to the next.

This is something I struggle with. My brain can be like a ping pong ball in a drum – bouncing around everywhere! So much to do, so little time.

So the next step is to let go of some of those to-dos forever.

There are going to be things on your list that you don’t really need do to. Will the world stop turning if you let some of that stuff go?

Make like Elsa and let it go.


There’s nothing sexy about routines and schedules but if you have a time for every purpose (to quote someone wiser than me), it removes some of the hectic and creates space for being present in the here and now.

You don’t have to worry about when things will get done because everything has an allocated time.

Without a routine, it’s easy to fret over what you should be doing with your time or worrying that you should be doing something else.

The most successful people in the world use schedules, not to-do lists, because they know if a task has a scheduled time, then it will be more likely to get done.

On your brain dump list, you wrote down how long it would take to complete each task on your to-do list.

Go ahead and slot those tasks into your daily schedule, given the time they will take and the other things you have to do, like eat and sleep. 

I find this is a super effective way of getting stuff done because a) vague to-dos become concrete tasks at specific times and b) you really need to prioritise what you’re going to do with your limited time. I can guarantee you have more to-dos on your list than hours in the day. Scheduling them means you focus on those tasks that are most important.

Now, you might be thinking “Schedule?? Try telling my two-year-old it’s time for me to do work! He doesn’t care about my schedule!” to which I say “I hear you, mama!” Life with young kids is chaotic and a schedule is more like interpretive dance done to improvised jazz.

This is a time when it’s even more important to simplify, simplify and then simplify some more. The less you pack into your day the better for you sanity.

It’s hard to stay mindful of the present moment when you’re drowning in your to-do list. But it’s worth the effort because being present is essential for your wellbeing. Use the tricks and tips the experts use to manage your to-dos so you can be present and content in the moment.

How to be mindful when you're busy

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