The world is a crazy place right now, and if you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little helpless.
I desperately needed to do something to combat the out-of-control feelings plaguing my days. So, I decided I’d conquer a simple task and feel accomplished: no more procrastination!
I hope you laughed at that because I laughed. If only it were so simple.
I have no problem admitting I have a problem with procrastination.
Welcome to the club, right?
I don’t mind procrastinating creative work. Thanks to much smarter people than me, I can confidently state my claim that procrastinating is good — nay, necessary — for pure creativity. (Did I take it a step too far? Maybe. Just let me have this one.)
The real problem is with small tasks. You know, like, “respond to so-and-so’s email” or “call about my dentist appointment.” For some reason, I just put these things off. I once put off responding to an email for a full month, only for it to take a total of 90 seconds for me to type out a reply. What did that month accomplish? Me looking like a complete ass, that’s what.
I have always envied people who don’t carry a to-do list, who go to bed at night with nothing lingering over them. (I know, they’re weird. But I wanted to be like them so bad.) Yet, I’ve never been able to do it.
All sorts of seemingly impossible things are happening these days, though, so I decided to make a change. To be the type of person I envisioned myself as being.
I haven’t entirely made it to the level of going to bed with absolutely nothing on my to-do list, but I’m certainly closer — no more page-long to-do lists. I’ve narrowed it down to only a few bullet points.
How did I do it?
Clear out your to-do list
The first step is to take a strict, Marie Kondo approach to your to-do list. Take a look at the list you have right now. Or the multiple versions you have scattered about the house. Don’t lie to me. I know you do.
Got them? Okay, now take a look and ask yourself: does everything on this list need to be done?
I tend to list anything and everything I’m interested in doing on mine. I want to take that new Masterclass — on the to-do list. I want to learn a new skill — on the to-do list.
But these aren’t actionable items that you need to achieve today.
They’re not checkmarks to be ticked; they’re broader topics I want to explore. They’re actions that shouldn’t need to be listed for me to get them done because I want to do them. And if I need to remind myself to do them — do I want to do them?
Then there are other items — smaller tasks that have been left on the to-do list for days, weeks, maybe even months. If you see a bunch of these, ask yourself: If you haven’t done it by now, does it need to be done? Why haven’t you done it already? Can you just let go of it?
If you can, let go, do it. Just take it off the list. Let it go. If you need to complete it as soon as, then do it today, get that shit done. Trust me; you’ll feel so much better afterward.
Don’t write tasks down on the to-do list that aren’t important
Now that you’ve cleared out your to-do list of any stragglers that don’t need to be there treat it sacredly.
Seriously. Be very intentional about what goes on the to-do list.
Maybe upgrade to a fancier notepad. A beautiful leather-bound journal, perhaps. Something that will make you think twice before writing in it. Your to-do list isn’t a braindump of thoughts you have during the day. It’s your action plan and your road map. Don’t clutter it with unnecessary stops.
Before adding anything to your to-do list, ask yourself: is this something that needs to be done? Or is this simply something you want to do, at some point?
Leave the to-do list for only actionable items that actually must be done, preferably within the next 24 hours. If you limit yourself to these restraints, you’ll realize you can start clearing the to-do list by the end of your day because they’re tangible actions that you can complete. Rather than vague ideas like “learn photography,” which could take you years and just become a lingering taunt.
If it takes less than five minutes, do it now
Here’s a familiar story: I would receive an email, open and read it, and rather than taking the thirty seconds to respond, I’d instead pull up my to-do list and add it as a task for later. I was the queen of doing this.
Which led to me having an exorbitantly long to-do list filled with small tasks, which then overwhelmed me by the sheer volume of them, and which I then put off because they overwhelmed me, until it became so long I couldn’t answer myself the question, “Why is this still not done?”
So, I established a new rule. I’m not the first to do this. But it worked wonders: if it’s something that can be done in under five minutes, just do it now. It’s not worth weighing down the to-do list.
A quick caveat: if you’re in the middle of a work session and something springs to mind that you need to do, then don’t stop your work to do it. That would lead you never to finish anything at all. Just jot it down in your notebook, or wherever you keep your stray thoughts, and then once you’re out of your deep work mode, then get it done.
Don’t overcommit to things to do in the day
Do you want to talk about other things I’m the queen at? Here’s one — thinking I can do way more in a day than I actually can. I am very optimistic about my abilities. When I start a day, I think I can conquer the world.
Hate it to break it to you (read: myself), but it’s just not possible to do a million things (and do them well) within a measly 24 hours. We have to pick and choose our priorities for the day if we want to produce anything worthwhile.
So, rather than listing everything you possibly want to get done, slow down. Evaluate what you can realistically accomplish during the day.
A great way to de-stress this process is to create an Ideal Week. Ask yourself; If everything runs according to plan, what does your week look like? Allot a specific time for meetings, planning, projects, etc.
This technique provides you with a game plan, so you can spread your work across the week instead of feeling like you have to work on everything every day. If you know you’re going to work on one project on Thursday, you won’t feel the need to cram your Monday with it when you have something else more pressing.
Realize what making promises to yourself means
A big thing to realize is that the promises we make to ourselves are as important as any we make to other people. Your to-do list is a promise to yourself. Once you’ve written them down, you need to keep to it.
When you make that adjustment in your head, crossing off all the things on your to-do list will start to feel more important. It’ll be a priority, not just an oh-that-would-be-nice-to-do idea.
One day soon, you’ll look down at your to-do list at night and realize you’ve accomplished every single thing on it. You’ll be able to go to bed feeling satisfied that you kept all the promises you made to yourself. You’ll feel amazing, and you’ll want to chase that feeling. So you’ll do it again the next day, and the next day.
And then suddenly you’ll look up and realize you’re now a person who does things today.