Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Do Lists and Procrastination

I have two lists, each a page long with two columns. One is just about household projects. The other one shows various projects (writing, volunteer group commitments) which I need to do. I made them over two years ago and I keep them updated. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff is added but little is removed.

Some of the things on my list have been there for years.

Are you like this? I don't think I'm alone with having problems in accomplishing tasks.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I worked up an Excel spreadsheet for an average month. If an average month has 30 days, we have 720 hours. I figured I work approximately 176 hours in a normal month. Travel to work equals 15.4. Sleep takes up 210 hours. I volunteer approximately 30 hours a month (although sometimes more). TV and goofing off time is conservatively 90 hours a month while I figure I spend 120 hours a month doing the ordinary day to day things of showering, dressing, and eating. That leaves 78.6 hours in a month unaccounted for, for an average of 2.6 hours a day (but a lot of that is on weekends so it doesn't really work that way).

If I have 78.6 hours to do as I please per month, that means 943.2 hours (if I'm very lucky) a year.

I'm not even trying to calculate household cleaning and repairs since lately my husband has been doing most of that (since he lost his job last November).

Now you factor in time to visit family and do other typical things to spend time and an average person probably has an hour a day, on average, to do whatever project matters to her. And I don't have kids! I'd hate to think what these calculations would look like then!

My to do list, meanwhile, grows, and I push off cleaning the office or organizing the garage or tiling the porch. I put off writing my mystery novel, even though I really want to do it. Why?

I suppose one reason is that I just don't feel that I have the time. There is always something else that I should be doing. I have obligations with my volunteer work (and some of that work can expand to any amount of time I am willing to give it and still never be done). I have household tasks which have been on my to do list from before I first thought of writing a book. The guilt in these uncompleted tasks weighs on me.

The second reason is probably a combination of inertia and fear. I felt this a lot when I was work working on my dissertation and I know the power of it. It can be so hard to start something; it can be so hard to continue doing something. Even something you want to do can seem overwhelming. "What am I doing, thinking I can write a novel? Who do I think I am kidding?"

"Imposter Syndrome" is rampant in graduate school: the feeling that you are a fraud and everyone will figure it out soon. You sit in class, feeling like everyone else is smarter and better than you, afraid that you don't really belong there, that you won't be able to succeed. Better to keep your head down and not stand out than to prove that you really are the idiot that you often feel yourself to be.

The problem with the "Imposter Syndrome" is that almost everyone feels it and it is really just fear--baseless fear. The only way to beat it is to ignore it and go ahead and try anyways. A simple thing to say, but so hard to do.

Once you start, pushing past the fear and the inertia, it can also be hard to continue--but more on that later.

First, I have to get better at starting.

That's why this month's theme is about "get it done by getting it started." I have to tackle three things off of those huge to do lists. I need to find the time to work on my projects, whether by making use of the time I have during the month or trimming time off of other categories.

I'll talk more about fear in my next post.

Photo from Mr. Pessimist's Photostream

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