How to get your to-do list done

tea and biscuits

A guide for procrastinators, and for those yucky jobs

I am a terrible procrastinator. Or sorry, I should say I am a really GOOD procrastinator. “There’s always tomorrow!” is my lazy and misguided motto πŸ™‚

In my previous jobs, there hasn’t really been much room for procrastinating – working on events means you’re normally working with up to fifty different people on various projects that could be happening tomorrow, next week, next month AND next year. It’s generally fast-paced, there’s lots going on, and you don’t have time to put things off (or they come back and bite you on the bum).

So I had to figure out a system to quash my procrastinating tendencies, and Get. Stuff. Done. Here’s what used to work for me when I was feeling panicked, didn’t know where to start, or had a bunch of tasks I really didn’t want to do:

  1. Make a cup of tea or coffee, or get a drink. Now no excuses for getting up again – you are committed for the next little while to tackling this. (See, this part is painless, right?!)
  1. Open a Word document and, using a bulleted list, quickly write down every single task you have to do. They can be big projects that can be broken down later if you want (e.g.: inbox/emails; write proposal/essay…), but get everything down on that list. Quick as you can! Don’t think about it too much or you’ll start panicking. This is just brainstorming for now. (And see – this part is also painless!) Don’t worry about putting things in order, or noting things by importance. For now, just clear out your head and get everything in one place. (I find it better to do this on the computer rather than on paper, as you can move things around easily.)
  1. Okay, now you need to put the tasks into order. So create little headings, and then move things around so they fit under the various headings. E.g.: ‘Must do by today’, ‘Must do by end of week’, ‘Ongoing project’, ‘Must do by end of month’… (still no thinking or stress involved – this part is still pretty painless, right?) Obviously you can create your own deadlines depending on how you work, or what your work flow is like. Sometimes I have an “URGENT!!!!” heading right at the top πŸ™‚ At this point you can also break down your larger projects. So “emails” might be broken down into: ‘answer three emails’, or ‘get down to 20 emails in my inbox’. Or you could split a long proposal into: ‘thirty minutes of research’, ‘intro paragraph’, or ‘summary of what I want to cover’. Just create smaller, bite-size tasks that are not so hideous you want to run away and cry.
  1. Now take your ‘things that need to get done today’ list, and choose three items – either the top three, the three you most want to do (if you’re being kind to yourself), or the three most important ones. Write these items down, numbered, by hand, on your notepad or a post-it or clean sheet of paper. Only three. And it must be away from your computer list (or your brain will start looking at your long list and getting freaked out about it, when it doesn’t need to).

You have your three items? Good.

  1. This is the harder part, I’m afraid to say. But it does get easier afterwards (I promise!) Now you have to DO item number one. Nope, not numbers two or three. Or anything from your longer list. Item number one. Right now. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You’ve already decided that this task has to get done today, so you’ll have to do it at some point. Might as well be now. So go ahead and do it. No ifs or buts. No drinks – you already have one. Just doing the task. I bet it’s not even as hard as you think!

Now I can guess what you might be thinking. “If it was as easy as that, I would have just done the task!” Would you? So why are you in this situation? Getting started is not easy, especially if it’s a yucky, horrible, gross task that you don’t want to do. This was always my problem. I knew roughly what had to be done, I just didn’t really want to do it.

So to get round this, find a friend who loves you dearly. Tell them that you need to do this task, and you will let them know when it’s done. And they have permission to hound you if you don’t do it. (I think you’ll find that your friends will get really onboard with this one – mine always did! For some reason they were happy to nag me!) So now you have some accountability.

Secondly, think how you will feel when this task has been done. Relieved? Happy? Less stressed? Inspired to do more? Keep thinking these thoughts, and focusing on how you will feel afterwards. Feel the feeling in the whole of your body. Now keep doing the task, while thinking how good you will feel afterwards.

(Okay, I hear you ask – but what if item number one depends on getting something from someone else, and they’re not around? Okay. Then you can move that item onto a little post-it of its own, somewhere nearby where you can see it and not forget about it – and you have to deal with it as soon as you see them or when the first opportunity comes up.)

  1. Once you’ve done and checked off item number one, move on to item number two. When that is done (and only when that is done), move on to item number three.
  1. Hooray! You have done your first three tasks! Presumably you know what is coming next… Now you can cross them off or delete them from your long computer list, and then take three more tasks. Doesn’t matter which three – you are going to tackle them all at some point soon πŸ™‚
  1. Keep working through ’em, three by three, and getting nudges from bossy helpful friends where necessary.
  1. If you need a break, take a break between one of your sets of three. Then back to it. Is it starting to feel better, and more doable? I hope so!
  1. And when you’ve done everything that needs to be done today, move on to whatever heading comes next for you.

Some deadly trapdoors to watch out for: the email notification, and interruptions… Ah, the dreaded email notification pop-up! How you work with this is entirely up to you. Either turn it off for now, or – if you know you have the capability to ignore emails that come through, and not get sucked into them – ignore them for now, and pick a period of time when you will look at them or get back to them.

And with interruptions from other people, you can pause your list and come back to it straight after, or you can tell the “interruptee” that you have two tasks left to do (for example), and you’ll come round or call them as soon as you’ve done them. Up to you.

Good luck! Now I’m off to get a drink, and start my next few tasks… πŸ™‚

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