Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Always Behind? What to do when your To Do list is never completed.

Do you have trouble completing all of your tasks? Do you make long lists of activities which must be done right away and then find yourself perpetually behind on your tasks? Are you putting off important but non-urgent tasks because you have other less important but more urgent tasks constantly on your list?

I know that all of that describes my life lately. I have a number of organizing tasks I have begun (and a longer list of things waiting) and I find myself disappointed at how slow I have been to get these out of my way so I can begin working on my novel.

After my big event, I needed to get my house reorganized (the event burdened us with a bunch of boxes to store and finding room in our house can be difficult--meaning a number of rooms need to be reorganized and sorted so the new stuff can be put away for storage). I also pulled out stuff from my office (so I could begin cleaning it) which left a bunch of unsorted papers in the dining room. I also am behind on laundry, have a large stack of clothes needing sewing (buttons and other small issues), and a garage which needs a major overhaul as we can hardly walk into it anymore thanks to new boxes. In the meantime, we've had some sort of small moth infestation get into our kitchen by unknown means so I'm disgusted by this and need to clean the place out (and possibly bug bomb the house).

After just over two weeks, my list is just getting longer and the house more messy (I look around the living room and a house that was quite clean 4 weeks ago now has every surface covered with crap).

It is time to figure out what to do when my to do list gets out of control.

1. Sometimes this happens because I overestimated how much I could get done in a short amount of time. I made too long of a list and then expected to get it all done. Dialing back my expectations can be useful here.

2. Keep on track. Part of my problem is that I started projects while still working on others. When I knew I had a problem with the new boxes, I shouldn't have added to the mess by digging out the paperwork from the office. The office had waited this long, it could have waited until I had a better handle on other tasks.

3. Prioritize. I need to figure out the most important tasks to get me back on track and stick to these. I should not allow myself to feel guilty for delaying less important tasks until later.

4. Don't over commit. My list was simply too long for the amount of time I gave myself. And I had promised myself I would be through with it so that I could start my novel. I took on too much. This is the other side of the 1st point. I had too long a list for too short of a time.

5. Give yourself some wiggle room. As you do a project, you may find other issues. I didn't expect the moths in the kitchen. I had no idea that they would suddenly appear two nights ago. I just know that every evening I go into the kitchen and there are a bunch of small moths. It means I need to do a lot of organizing and cleaning and maybe go to the trouble of bug bombing the house to get rid of them. My list was too crowded to give me room to add this unexpected extra.

Basically, it boils down to don't try to do too much in too little of a time. Choose your battles wisely, give yourself time, and then add new tasks later.

My list tip I am considering: do the important but not urgent task of writing the novel NOW and not wait until I'm finished with these tasks. My problem before was that the novel was always "next." As in, I'll do that next, after I finish this organizing project. The problem is that there always seems to be another project to push it off. I need to find at least small amounts of time to do my writing, in between these much needed organizational projects.

Otherwise, my to do list will be an never ending source of procrastination on the one item that I say is most important to me. That doesn't make any sense at all, when you think about it.

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