Is Your To-Do List Getting You Down?
Let’s talk lists. To-do lists! Lists can be a blessing and a curse. It’s great when your list keeps you organized and productive. And it’s a source of pain when it only reminds you of what you haven’t done yet, or should do, or want to do but can’t do.
I’m definitely a list-oriented person. I usually keep more than one list at a time — one for personal stuff, and one for work. And, I’ll often have a third list for a specific home or work project.
Crossing completed items off my list is exciting for me. (Hey, don’t judge.) In fact, I confess there are times I’ve added something to my list that I had already completed … just so I could mark it done! I know there are more than a few of you out there who can relate.
Now, for one reason or another, sometimes I make a new list. Maybe my existing list has gotten messy, or I want to use a new notebook. As I write my new list, I bring over items from my old list that are not yet done.
Recently, I got curious about why some items never seem to get done. They’re like leftovers, and I’m always copying them from one list, to the next, and the next. What’s that about? Why am I procrastinating? Why don’t I do them, and why do I feel bad about it?
Do you own your list? Or does your list own you?
I’ve found a few reasons. Below, I share them with you — along with some Power Challenge ideas to try when you find yourself procrastinating.
Power Challenge 1: Find a Reason to Do it, or Let it Go
Sometimes we put an item on our list without much thought. Or it seemed important to us at the time. But then we just never seem to get to it. Or we consistently avoid it.
Maybe that item didn’t belong on your list in the first place! Rigorously question why it’s there — and whether it should stay.
For example, I often have a list of people to contact for professional networking. Sometimes there are one or two people I just don’t contact. When I take a closer look, I realize it’s unclear how that relationship would benefit either me or the other person. There’s really no good reason to contact them.
If you can’t find a strong “why” for an item, it’s okay to cross that item off your list! Give yourself permission and freedom. If it doesn’t belong there, let it go.
“Subtracting from your list of priorities is as important as adding to it.” — Frank Sonnenberg
Power Challenge 2: Break it into Smaller Chunks
If you’re a list person, you might like to do the quick and easy items first. You get that great feeling of marking them DONE.
But what about the bigger, more complex items? Do those suffer from procrastination? Let’s take a closer look.
A big item can cause you to feel overwhelmed. The task seems too time-consuming. Or your mind goes blank. You don’t even know where to start! You shut down instead of acting.
Items like that need to be broken up into smaller pieces. For example, “redecorate the living room” is more of a project than a task. It has many steps. First, you decide on a theme. Then you research furniture and fabrics. You start shopping around. Buy everything. And finally, you arrange your perfect room!
When you break down a large item, how far should you go?
Make your pieces small enough that you feel capable and motivated to do them. It’s important that you feel accomplished as you complete them. When you have a lot of little successes along the way, you’re more likely to finish your big or complex items. And crossing the finish line is where the magic is.
For some of us, chunking into smaller pieces doesn’t come naturally. If that’s you, try partnering with a friend or colleague who can help. And sometimes all you need is a sounding board while you talk it through out loud. The more you practice breaking up big items, the better you’ll get. And the more you’ll get done!
Power Challenge 3: Stretch Out of Your Comfort Zone
We’ve looked at items that shouldn’t be on your list, and items that need to be broken down. Here’s one more reason why you might procrastinate: That one item is just really hard for you to tackle.
Related: Break Those Bad Habits!
You need to figure out why. For example, perhaps you want to network with someone. Yet you feel intimidated or insecure about approaching them. Or you want to change your eating habits. However, you’re afraid you’ll never get to enjoy your favorite sweet treats again.
We often put items on our list that will make us stretch or grow. Especially if we’ve articulated our personal vision of what we want to do and who we want to be. But then we avoid those items.
“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” — Seth Godin
If something stretches you outside your comfort zone, you’ll need to give it some extra thought. You may have some subconscious worries preventing you from going forward. Maybe you think you can’t do it because you’re not good enough. Or deserving enough. Or you’re actually afraid of what will happen next if you ARE successful with it.
I call these kinds of concerns the “ICKs.” That stands for “I can’t kuz…!” Those ICKs drive a lot of procrastination.
What to do? How can you get started? Ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I need more skill? If so, how can I learn?
- Do I need help or support? If so, how can I put that in place?
- Do I need to take a deep breath and just dive in? If so, how can I face my fear head-on?
Related: Conquer Your Fears!
If something is hard for you, acknowledge that. Be kind to yourself. Dig deep. And then do whatever is needed to get yourself started and moving!
From Procrastination to Productivity
I had a bad study habit with textbooks when I was in school. After reading the first two pages of an assigned chapter, I would stop to count all the pages in the chapter. Then, I would read two more pages … and then stop to count all the pages again. AND how many I had left. Amazing how the total number of pages never changed! Counting them didn’t do anything except help me procrastinate.
If you’re procrastinating with items on your to-do list, take a step back. Use these Power Challenges to understand why you’re not doing the item. Take it off the list, chunk it down, or figure out what support you need. That way, you’ll own your list instead of your list owning you!
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