If you’re like me, you jot down errands/tasks/obligations as they occur to you and end up with a daily list of 20-30 items that need to get done. Without prioritizing, organizing, or planning, this can be somewhat of a nightmare. For example, my list the other day included writing tasks, errands, a networking event, phone calls to make, long term projects, research, and a few things to follow up on. Just looking at the list was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to begin, how to schedule my day, or what I really needed to get done. But I dug in, crossed off a few of the easier tasks, then lost steam. By mid afternoon I felt disappointed in myself as my progress stalled but my list kept growing. On a good day I can get the majority of the list crossed off, but on a not-so-productive day, I have so many remaining items that I feel like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill.
So out of frustration I decided to take a long, hard look at my list-making skills.
And I’ve come up with a few strategies to help me have more productive feeling days rather than overwhelmed feeling days. (Notice the importance of the word ‘feeling’. So much of this is our own inner voice judging our accomplishments or lack of accomplishments.)
To begin with, I am organizing my list. Priorities at the top. Maybe there are only three or four things I absolutely must get done on a given day. If I can complete those, then anything else is gravy.
I’m also making things easier for myself by breaking big tasks into little pieces. If I have a deadline that’s a week away, I chunk down the work into 30-60 minute bits that I tackle every day. Much gentler on the nervous system than procrastination.
Third, I’m strategizing how to be most efficient. Living in Los Angeles, traffic is a big issue. If I can plan my errands and appointments in the middle of the day, I have a fighting chance of not getting stuck in my car creeping along at 10 miles per hour.
Fourth, I’m adding whatever I can to make completing the tasks as quick and foolproof as possible. I jot down the phone number right next to ‘call the dentist’. Every little bit helps.
I also like to throw in a treat whenever I can. If I have to run errands, leaving myself five minutes to swing by Peets for an iced latte makes the whole chore a little more pleasant .
Finally, I cross the things I’ve accomplished off my list with an affirmation. “Good job” or “I’m glad that’s done” is a whole lot more compassionate than “you lazy cow, you still have three things left to do”. And I add the unfinished items to the next day’s list with no reproach or shame.
I bet that even Sisyphus would have appreciated a pat on the back for his efforts.