A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about discovering the quote in the title, being enthused by it, and subsequently getting ready to smash through a lengthy to-do list during a recent week off work.
I also wrote about how I didn’t come close to getting through that list to the extent that I’d hoped to, despite getting up early each day and, upon reflection, believing I’d been productive for much of the week.
This has led me to reflect for the past week or two. Reflect on why we have good intentions that just don’t materialise. Reflect on why we feel we’re really busy but ultimately achieve little of note. Reflect on why we believe we’re taking what we see as positive steps and not waiting for “someday” to arrive yet still frequently get a sense we’re not where we want to be. And I believe I now know the root causes, certainly in my case. There are 3, and I’ll explain each:
We set unrealistic targets.
I revamped my to-do list a few months ago and it was five pages long when I printed it out. Admittedly, that included all of my aims – short, medium and long-term – but five pages is excessive, even to me. When distilling that down into daily targets, I have a natural tendency to include too many tasks, rather than a realistic number, and I now realise that this doesn’t help. At times, I manage to address quite a few of them but then still have a sense of being a little overawed with what is left and often fail to complete them in full. That can leave me feeling deflated and dissatisfied. What I now realise is that I need to be more realistic; to remember that there can be many unplanned things to address each day and a shorter daily to-do list is actually a much better idea.
We put too much pressure on ourselves and compare ourselves to others.
The reason why I tend to set ambitious targets is that I want to achieve. I want to get through that daily list, and subsequent weekly, monthly, and annual lists, without any slippage. How else am I going to achieve my goals, or at least be able to say ‘hey – I gave it a shot’ for the more ambitious entries? But this just isn’t sustainable. None of us can perform at 100% of our potential, each day, week, month and year. Life just doesn’t work like that. It also doesn’t help that I follow a number of inspirational / productivity / life-hack accounts on Instagram. These help me massively, in the main, though some of them do lead to comparing myself to people who are hugely-driven and have the time to focus solely on their goals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but constant comparison to others can be tiring and counter-productive at times, especially when so many other people have a tendency to hone in on the positives in life whilst conveniently hiding away the negatives.
We subconsciously take the easy option far too many times.
This is the hardest one to address. It’s as if it’s a pre-wired condition we all have and just can’t change. The path of least resistance is so often the easiest to fall into and, once there, it’s difficult to get out of. Far too many times I flop onto the couch of an evening, tired after another busy day, and glance at my to-do list but tell myself I’ll allow myself 10 minutes downtime before getting started. All too often that aimless, zombie-like scrolling through social media and bookmarked websites increases from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Then that 30 minutes becomes an hour. Then, before I know it, it’s roughly an hour or so before I usually go to bed and yet another evening has pretty much gone.
Another problem I have is that my to-do list also contains easy options. Yes, they’re all tasks I need to complete, and are therefore valid entries, but some of them definitely fall into the easy option category. The trivial entries are often the ones that take priority. Yes, it may be necessary to tidy up my podcast playlist, or make a list of the books I want read over the next 6 months and prioritise them, or learn a new song on guitar just for the hell of it, but these are trivial entries compared to many on the list. They won’t help me to achieve my main aims in life but often I’m of the frame of mind where I think “well, if I address that one, it may not be that important but it’s a line through another entry on the list”, and that really isn’t good enough…
So, will reducing the number of lines on the to-do list really help in the long run?
Hopefully, it will, and I’m certainly giving it a try when it comes to daily targets, though there are a couple of other things I’m also trying in a bid to improve things. Very simple things, but hopefully they’ll work. Both relate to focus…
Firstly, I’ve recently started writing the immediate task I’m aiming to complete on a post-it note and keeping that close. Just one task, leaping off the note at me rather than being buried within a bigger list. In the few days in which I’ve tried this so far, it seems to be working. It retains my focus and stops me from drifting. It also helps that I leave my phone well out of reach whilst addressing this, checking it between tasks only.
Secondly, as detailed in the image below, I’m trying to just get started. Core basics, I know, but I think this is the single biggest barrier in truly getting things done. Again, it’s far too easy to take the easy option and plan, then research some more, then map out how I’ll address a task, then go back and tweak the plan, then review again. Far too often, that’s an hour or two gone without actually starting the meaningful work. Beginning is difficult – it is a challenge. Yet I always find, regardless of whether I’m tired or full of energy, if I actually get started on something, it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier. My mindset changes in an instant and the mojo returns. I’m certain this is the biggie; the game-changer; the one thing I absolutely need to do on a daily basis. There is an alternative view of that quote – harsher and not one to share with elderly relatives – and I must admit that I frequently say it to myself when I know no-one else can hear: Just get f*%king started..
Anyway, I feel I’ve banged on about to-do lists more than enough over recent weeks. Next week, I’ll write about the pressures of parenting during the current Covid-19 scenario and how I believe that watching films with my daughter is helping her to form a sensible, well-rounded view of the world we live in.
As always, thanks for reading and take care.