My Arch Enemy: The To Do List

I don’t know what it is about a good old fashion To Do List but I HATE THEM. I could put the three easiest things on a piece of paper like do laundry, call doctor for referral, and e-mail professor (all real items on my current To Do List) and it will take me days and days (and days and days….) to get just one thing done. I’ll run out of underwear, the weird thing on my neck will get weirder, and my professor will continue to think I’m an irresponsible slacker but I still can not bring myself to do the easiest tasks. It’s become a draining cycle of putting things off until the last second or putting them off indefinitely until they are no longer relevant. This leads to me stressing out and regretting missed opportunities. 

This may not seem like a big deal on the overall journey to wellness to you, but I think it is. Right now, the things I need to do are causing anxiety, they build up in mind to be larger than they actually are. As they get bigger and bigger I become more and more hesitant to do them and put them off longer thus leading to my cycle of, well, not doing anything. My thinking is that if I’m able to take charge of the smaller things then, maybe taking charge of the big things will seem easier. In return my mind will be less jumbled and I’ll be on my way to achieving a few aspects of wellness: the illusion that I’m organized (or actually becoming so), peace of mind, and the feeling of accomplishment. 

Now they say the best way to face your fears to a approach them head on, so for the past week I’ve been following a daily to do list on how to get over my general to do list avoidance…and to be honest it’s working.

1. PUT THE LIST SOMEWHERE RIGHT IN MY FACE

I don’t mean on the side of the counter where if I think about it I’ll look at it or buried in the notes on my phone. Right. In. My. Face. I ended up leaving it right under my phone on my night side table. Every time I went to grab my phone, put it down, or plug it in I saw my To Do List. I touch my phone a lot (something I’m sure I’ll take about in another blog post) so I saw my To Do List a lot. This may not be ‘the place’ for everyone. It could be taped to a mirror, next to your computer, or even on the dash of your car. It all depends on where you spend the most time. 

Seeing the list put kind of a comfortable pressure on me. I know EXACTLY what I had to do and was reminded of it often. It was like a little push to do something on the list each time that I saw it.

2. DON’T TRY TO MEMORIZE THE LIST

I would lay in bed with the same three task running through my head like a broken record; “laundry, doctor, e-mail. laundry, doctor, e-mail. laundry, doctor, e-mail….”. Then out of no where I remember I had to go to the bank and write a thank you note which then changed my list to “laundry, doctor, e-mail, thank you, bank. laundry, doctor, e-mail, thank you, bank…..e-mail, thank, you bank?” Tasks would just fall out of my head when I recited them in my mind like this. I would eventually add them back to my mental list a few minutes later but in return another task would slip my mind. This gave the illusion that my list was never ending. Physically seeing my To Do List as oppose to thinking about it made things seem more manageable.  Trying to memorize my To Do List made it seem bigger than it was.

3. BREAK IT UP DAY BY DAY

There are some things I just really really hate doing. For example phone calls. They should be quick and overall painless, but I’m awkward, I don’t know to say, and I stutter so I hate them.  In the past I would lump all my least favorite tasks together either at the being of the week to get them all out of the way, or the end of the week in order to put them off as long as possible. Every so often a level of high motivation would allow me to finish my tasks at the beginning of week, but my motivation would inevitably wear off and I wouldn’t finish anything for the rest of the week. On the opposite end when I saved tasks for later in the week I would come up with some excuse to “just save it till Monday”.

By doing one thing I REALLY do not want to do everyday of the week not only have I split of the uncomfortable or hard tasks, but I’ve also created this sort of forward momentum to keep completing task throughout the whole week. It’s relaxing knowing that that call to the doctors is done for the day and I don’t have to worry about anther phone call until tomorrow. This works for paperwork, e-mails, cleaning rooms, or whatever tedious tasks are your least favorite.

Since I could see the tasks I had to do the next day it also deterred me from putting off today’s tasks. I knew I didn’t have time tomorrow for addition tasks, which further encouraged me to get things done.

4. BREAK UP THE BIG TASKS

Clean room, do yard work, and organize fiances are all umbrella tasks. I started breaking up these umbrella tasks to the smaller tasks that were contained within them. Clean room became put a way laundry, vacuum, dust, and put away clutter. By doing this I felt like I was accomplishing more, gave me the opportunity check things off my list (yes, I physically put a check next to a task and it feels oh so good), and even helped me become more organized. I would write down things that I might normally skip when I was doing big umbrella tasks like dust. It also gave a fuller picture of what I really needed to do and as a result I gave my self plenty of time to complete a task, instead of under budgeting my time and not getting to all my tasks.

5.  SAVE THE TO DO LIST FOR THE THINGS THAT CHANGE EVERY WEEK

I tried to put things like do yoga and have smoothie on my  To Do List but it never felt right. Those things belong in a routine. My To Do List is now strictly for things that change week to week and I have a separate place for my routines. Sometime routines need variation or can even be influenced by my To Do List. By leaving the things I want to achieve daily off the list I made more room and drive for the things I don’t want to do. I know I’m going to (or at least trying) to do yoga everyday. So if I check yoga and nothing else off the list each day I will feel like I did something, but I’m trying to avoid that. I’m trying to actually do things, just not trick myself in to thinking I’m doing things.

6. BE FORGIVING AND FLEXIBLE

There will be days where I don’t get everything done on my list and that is OKAY. I will do my best to add the task to another day. However, that can not become a cycle. I’ve done a good job over the past week and only had to move around one or two things to a different day. When I didn’t have enough time to run to the bank on Monday, I moved that to Tuesday and took an easy task from Tuesday to do on Monday. I’ll have to do my best not to turn this into a habit because that’s when I’ll fall back into saving everything for the end of the week.

IN CONCLUSION….

1. Look at the To Do List A LOT as a reminder of what needs to be done.

2. Physically write the list out so the list doesn’t become larger than life mentally.

3. Write things out each day for the whole week so the temptation to push things off is less pressing and split the unsavory tasks up throughout the week.

4. Be specific and break down larger task so they are more organized and provide a clear picture of what needs to be done.

5. Keep routines off the To Do List so that the things that are specific to this week get done.

6. To Do Lists can change, and everything will get done eventually. However, the list was made for a reason, try to stick to the list.