Are you getting through all your To-Do or just making do?
Perhaps, like me, your To-Do list has run amok.
I might need a To-Don’t list.
My To-Do list runneth over, not just from the plethora of daily tasks I need to check off but from those desired and stubborn long-term goals I hope to reach.
Plus, all of those check-mark items not checked off that were to be done last month.
And the month before that.
And spring. Of 2016.
Carry-overs. Always so much To Do that I simply can’t do it all.
The Multitude of Multiple Demands.
All this Getting Done of What Needs to be Done is getting in my way of What I Actually Have to Do. I’m operating in a sense of busy-ness that’s keeping me busy but not actually advancing my business. I sense you can relate to my story.
A typical scene goes something like this:
I had calls and texts to return but couldn’t find my iPhone. This happens more often than it should, like the time I left it in the produce aisle and frantically ran around the supermarket for twenty minutes until I found it by the avocados…
… I looked in my purse. I looked in the car. I went to the bedroom where I thought I might have left it.
… When I flipped on the light, a bulb burned out. So I went to the linen closet in the laundry room, where we keep the spares, so I could swap out the bulb.
… When I opened the closet, I saw that an entire shelf – where we keep the towels – was bare. I recalled they had been washed but I hadn’t seen them since. There they were, still in the washing machine, slightly damp and smelling a little funky. I’d have to run the load again.
… That’s when I noticed we are nearly out of detergent.
… I didn’t want to forget to get more detergent, so I went to the kitchen to add “laundry detergent” to the shopping list I keep there, passing the half-full cup of coffee on the counter I had forgotten about. Now it was tepid so I stuck it in the microwave to warm it up.
… While I was in the kitchen waiting on my coffee, I figured I should see what else we need.
… I opened the fridge. Added “half and half” and “deli” to the list.
… I ate a piece of cheese. Because it was there.
… I opened the pantry and noticed we are low on bread.
… Also, someone left behind an empty box once full of granola bars. I hate it when the little people who live in this house take the last granola bar and leave an empty box behind rather than take it out to the recycling bin where it belongs.
… So I went outside to take it there, passing the mums which looked as if they hadn’t been watered in a few days.
… So I went back to the garage to get the watering can to water the mums.
… Then I noticed a big weed in the flower bed. In fact, there were weeds everywhere.
… So I started pulling them.
… After about 20 minutes, my back aching, a headache starting from lack of AM caffeine (where did I leave that cup of coffee?), I stopped. I had to toss the weeds and take the empty granola bar box to the recycle bin and my hands were full.
… That’s when I saw a light bulb, sitting right there, on the lawn.
… Why is there a light bulb on my lawn? How did it get there? I can’t recall.
… And… where is my phone?
What just happened? I did a bunch of things, none of which was what I most needed to do.
To be clear, this isn’t multitasking. Multi-tasking can be efficient if done properly. What I’m doing here is multi-tending to a multitude of needs, one after the other, none to completion, a process I’ve defined as “swirling.”
I move so quickly from one task to the other, whatever catches my eye, and there’s no beginning or end or thought behind what I’m doing other than THERE IS SO MUCH TO GET DONE!
And then, the end of the day hits, and I have nothing to show for it.
I’ve had this happen when my husband will say, “So, what did you do today?”
And I think, “Nothing. I did nothing today.” Is that possible? I know I was busy, how could I have done nothing?
And the fact is, I’ve done A LOT. But accomplished little. And doing and accomplishing are two different things.
So, how to stop the tornado-like Swirl and accomplish more? Here are five tips I’m using to hold myself accountable. If your To Do is barely allowing you to Make Do, I hope you’ll find these valuable as well.
#1. Set Your Intention – Rather than waking up and thinking about how much you have to do, which automatically starts the mental swirl, decide how you want to feel for the day. Organized? Creative? Helpful? Relaxed? And then plan your activities accordingly. I’m aiming to feel “productive” this week and to do so, I’m using the remainder of my tips…
#2. Write a Reasonable To-Do list – Don’t put on that list EVERYTHING you’ve ever needed to do. Stop carrying over the items from spring of 2016. Are they really that important to you or have you lived just fine without them? Include on your list only what you must do, need to do and most want to do today. My hack is to include three things on that list that I know I can accomplish because doing so will motivate me to accomplish more.
Small goals make big goals. Speaking of small, see tip #3…
#3. Start Small – “Write a book” is daunting and unlikely to happen which is why it’s been on my list and in the back of my mind since 2008. “Write 500 words per day” is more reasonable. Are 1,000 words better? Yes, of course, but start small and when small acts become habits, build from there. And what can be smaller than sand in the hourglass? See tip #4:
#4. The 15-Minute Rule – Don’t have a lot of time? You can accomplish a lot in 15 minutes. Maybe you can’t complete the project, but you can outline it. Maybe you don’t have an hour to spend at the gym but you can do 15 minutes of bodywork at home. Set a timer and challenge yourself to see how much you can get done in that quarter of an hour.
To use the time wisely, identify what might get in your way with tip #5:
#5. Avoid Distractions – This one is obvious. If you’re on a computer, turn off notifications for all apps that might take your attention elsewhere. Don’t have an office but need to do work? Set aside a separate space designed entirely for the work you do. When you notice something that needs to be done, like watering the mums, jot it down but don’t jump in.
When so much needs to be done, it’s easy to stray. Stay focused on the task at hand and let your small accomplishments add up.
Anything else you don’t get to can wait ’til tomorrow. Even those items from spring of 2016.
How about you? How do you get things done when there is so much to do?
Valerie Gordon is a former award-winning television producer who now helps clients take command of their stories and create fulfilling next chapters through her career and communications firm The Storytelling Strategist. In her latest personal chapter, she has a lot To Do, but is very much enjoying doing it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about her conference keynotes and corporate workshops on productivity and goal-setting, including her goal-setting game show “Big Excuse Bingo!”