Jump to content

    How to Stay Sane With Work

    how-to-stay-sane-at-workUse this simple method to maintain your sanity with work.

    Over the years I've done work for different sized companies, companies of my own, different roles etc.
    While I love doing work, sometimes I would keep adding stuff to my to-do lists and IT NEVER ENDED.
    So a few years back I came up with some hard rules I must follow so I can maintain a steady amount of work output over the years without facing any sort of burnout.

    1.) Make a to-do list the night before.

    I have found making a to-do list BEFORE YOU GO TO BED to be the best way to stay productive during the day.
    By making my to-do lists the night before, it mentally prepares me for what I need to do, and allows me to plan the day ahead of time.
    Here's example of a to-do list you make the night before:

    to-do-list-blank.jpgAlways make this list the night before.

    Before I started making to-do lists the night before, I’d wake up, go over the work I need to do, write out a ton of tasks, then dread doing them, or maybe not even have enough time in the day because I didn’t plan correctly. (Did you know 41% of to-do list items never get finished?)
    Preparing your work the night before is so incredibly important, because you can define what a "successful" day of work is.
    Once you finish those tasks, your day has been "successful!"
    This brings us to the next step....

    2.) Once done with that to-do list, no more work allowed.

    I go through my to-do list and scratch off each item until finished.

    A completely finished to-do list.

    Sometimes I use a piece of paper to cover the entire page, and only scootch it down to the next item when finished with the last.
    You can watch the whole process here (this is a video from 2012 and I still use this method every single day):

    Once this to-do list is completely scratched off, work is officially done for the day.
    I have to get off the computer and go do something else. 

    • Get outside.

    • Go read.

    • Listen to a podcast.

    • Cook.

    • Call friends/family.

    • Do a fun project.

    • Learn a new song.

    • ...whatever.

    I have found it super important to call it quits when you hit the end of your to-do list.

    3.) Never add stuff for the to-do list the same day.

    The most important part of this process is:


    I'll repeat this again...


    I'm going to repeat it once more....


    One more time just to make sure you understand.....


    If you keep adding stuff to your to-do list, you will start creating a never-ending to-do list, and you will never be "satisfied" with a good days work.
    If someone asks you for something, reply with “Ok I’ve got it on my calendar for tomorrow!”
    Here's several ways you can tell people in a polite way: 

    • "Ok I’ve got it on my calendar for tomorrow!"

    • "I'll get it to you within 48 hours."

    • "Got it, it's on my to-do list for tomorrow."

    • "Awesome, I'll be handling it by 3pm tomorrow."

    • "I'll get it to you in 24-48 hours."

    So when someone asks you for something, assuming it's not 100% urgent, reply with “Ok I’ve got it on my calendar for tomorrow!”
    I viciously guard my time and energy, so if someone wants a task done, I always tell them I have it on the to-do list for tomorrow.
    Some people are not in a position where they can deflect every task for 24 hours, so for these people they should make it clear which tasks are REQUIRED for the same day, and which are not.
    Many times people will promise something right away, which sets the expectation it will be done right away:

    But what if you just try to mention you'll do something tomorrow:

    If the boss absolutely needs this report earlier, they will mention it.
    This exchange wasn't bad at all, and everyone knows the report will be done by 3pm tomorrow. By simply changing the wording of the response, everyone is happy.
    I hope this helps you guard your time and set boundaries on your work much better :)
    Neville Medhora

    P.S. How do YOU stay sane with work? I'd love to hear your tips!

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Those lines are gold, thank you. I frequently tell people at work I'll do things the same day and it just piles up.
    Link to comment
    Guest Vic Vuik


    Like you, I planned at the night before. But I just time boxing, you may hear about this (Elon Musk uses it). It is really really push me to run faster and be more productive. I finished tasks I'd needed all day to do within 4 productive hours.

    Link to comment
    Guest Mike Kol Adam


    Just made this comment to get your awesome book.


    Link to comment
    Guest Neil Courtis


    This are such valuable tips.  In particular the suggested response to the boss who asks for a report.  Just adding "...by 3pm tomorrow" when you agree is so elegant. It packs all the negotiation into a few works and also trains your boss (who we all know has the potential to wreak havoc on our schedule) to respect your time without making a big deal about it.  Bravo Neville!
    Link to comment
    Guest Katz Yair


    that's good.

    i do something similar. i do a to do list in the end of the workday for the next day. i list all of the stuff that needs to be done, even if not all can be done.

    at the beginning of the day i go over the list, choose some small quick tasks and some larger ones. i memorize them, and start working.

    at the end of the day, i will go over the list i did, and see what i managed/remembered to do. i mark out what i did. the task that i forgot to do, probably were not that important to do, and i will move them to the next day :)

    that way i make sure i only do what is A MUST, or really important. of course i will try and make first the next day, those that i didn't do the day before (if they are important enough :) )

    Link to comment
    Guest Toluwanimi FAKEYE


    I agree with you! Anytime I include things into my to-do list on the very day, I barely get half of it done.


    Another tip I use is, I try not to have more than 10 things on my list, because once I go through a list with more than 10 tasks in it, I just become mentally tired, before even getting started😂

    Link to comment
    Guest Ruheth


    Really informative, the reason why I subscribed to your emails! You give game when you aren’t even giving game😂 keep on being great bro!
    Link to comment

    When I saw the summarized version of this on LinkedIn, I immediately liked the post & applied it. I'm on my 3rd day now. And it has been creating wonders already.


    In my work, I usually stay sane by wearing earphones (even when there's no music). It signals people not to talk to me. It allows me to get drowned in my work.

    Link to comment
    Guest Sadaf Tanzeem


    Hi Neville,


    To-do list aren't new on the market, I've heard more people than I can remember to create one before you get to work. But, what they failed to define is when they WILL work, and when they WON'T.


    I've been using a to-do list from my college days, but I could hardly complete all tasks ever. Why? Because I didn't know how to say, "I've got it on my to-do list for tomorrow."


    I learned to keep unnecessarily interrupting calls short by using Tim Ferris's advice of telling people, you're in the middle of something or asking them to define their long stories in an email. And now it's you.


    I guess the more time people spend banging their heads on the keyboard, the more creative ways they come with to save it. And I hope down the road as I gain more experience, I become like one of you guys.


    Seriously! Thanks so much for sharing this insight.

    Link to comment
    Guest jagadeash.s


    I'm just doing this Comment for the free Book you promised me




    Here goes


    I have come to understand that my Inner Champion undergoes a slow death when I Don't say ' no '


    so I set myself Goals for each month


    Financial Goals


    Goals for my passion


    Goals for my Career


    Movie goals ( I mean why not??? )




    and then I create an outline of what a perfect day would look like


    I create a set of daily tasks that would take me close to these goals and make me happy.


    Once that's done


    I just add tasks onto those Primary tasks each morning


    Each task is evaluated to make sure that they will take me closer to those goals




    If it will not


    I just say NO


    It's hard


    But I say no

    Link to comment
    No idea if this is also common in the US, but in my country, clients have this obsession with sending super long voicenotes via WhatsApp (like... 8' long audios, it's insane). So I started telling them that I listen to their voicenotes while showering or... errr... passing the contents of the bowels out of the body (oh this came out fancy) because they're too long and that's the only "free time" I have. It made some of them feel weird so they just started sending texts, like a normal person would do :P
    Link to comment
    Guest Shoden


    I look at Neville's drawings to get my zen fix for the day. Oh yeah!
    Link to comment
    If you don't want people to expect immediate responses (esp. during non-office hours), schedule your replies to go out the next working day. In this way, you train others to respect your schedule and way of working.
    Link to comment
    Guest Nico Bui


    Thank you so much, this is so helpful. I try to plan as well, but I struggle to keep my plan because I almost always add something to the list on the same day, then get stress out because I am not being able to do some of it.


    PS: can I pls get a copy of your book You are gonna die? It is nice to plan for my death.

    Link to comment
    Guest Marisa


    I'm not sure if this is allowed at all work places, but listening to something in the background is very helpful for me. Also, setting a timer. I find that if I have a difficult task to complete, setting a timer and telling myself I only have to work on it for an hour before I get a break is helpful.
    Link to comment
    Guest Angelo


    Hey Neville!


    I try to keep it as simple as possible.


    I have 3 points of 100% control every day - morning, evening, at the end of the week.


    Every morning I work on my main priority for the day. If done by afternoon I go on the second on and finally the third one.  If it's not done I keep working on the same task.


    I never have more than 3 things on my To Be Completed list. I have a Radar list where I add things to keep in mind. This is the "It would be nice to do this as well" list.


    Every evening I review the day by asking a series of ultra-secret questions and see what can I do better tomorrow.


    Every week I review the week with - yes - a series of ultra-secret questions and I see what I can improve for the following week. What were the main obstacles, etc.


    Then I decide the main projects for the next week, what resources I need, what will be the main obstacles to get them done.


    Set myself some nice juicy targets and off we go.




    That's it :D.


    P.S. Your system it's pretty cool as well.

    Link to comment
    Guest Marian


    I only check my email once a day. *gasp* I know! But, it's filled with everyone else's priorities, so I quickly get to inbox zero and focus on my own intentions.
    Link to comment
    Guest Gary Megel


    Years ago I had used your format and it worked.  Then I lost the info.  For the last week I was wishing I had it still.  (We moved and it might be in one of fifty+ boxes.). And now this email!  Add mind reader to your impressive list of accomplishments!!  Thank you.
    Link to comment
    Guest Neville Medhora


    Thank you Jenny, I hope they work well for you! Such a simple and easy way to change the outcome right??
    Link to comment
    Guest Neville Medhora


    Oh interesting! I've tried boxing things in certain times, but for me personally it hasn't always worked great.


    So long as I get all the stuff on my to-do list done I kind of don't care too much HOW I do it, so long as it gets done.


    It's crazy how different people are in their approaches!

    Link to comment
    Guest Neville Medhora


    Bahhaha.....well at least you will remember NOT TO ADD TO YOUR TO-DO LIST THE SAME DAY!
    Link to comment
    Guest Neville Medhora


    Hey Neil thanks, it definitely is a great little sentence to let everyone be on the same page, know the work in question will be finished, and also not add it to your schedule the same day :)
    Link to comment
    I feel seen. I asked Neville about that video on Twitter couple of days ago, he responded (helpful as always) and now a blog post :-)     Thanks man.
    Link to comment

    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

    • Join 55,000+ people getting our newsletter

      nev-and-logo-going-into-email (3).gif

      - Get notified of new posts -
      - Get weekly S.W.I.P.E.S. Email -
      - Get a free masterclass in copy -
      - People love our emails, see testimonials -

    • Create New...