Let me guess. You have a certain list of to-dos that carries over from week to week. It practically has cobwebs on it because it’s been sitting dormant for so long. There are things on there that are semi-important but apparently not urgent enough to take precedence over feeding kids and doing laundry that seems to amass into mountainous piles if you look away for even a second. And yeah, you probably also just dislike the idea of *doing* the things on the list.
Mine usually has things like:
- “Make dentist appointment.”
- “Replace windshield wipers.”
- “Go through pile of stuff to get rid of in garage.”
- “Finally make 2nd child’s 1st year baby book.”
Yikes. That last one has been on there a while…
With all of those dreaded tasks looking up at me from the monster list I’ve created, I tend to just ignore it and put it aside, telling myself I’ll dive in to it next week. It’s a lie. …. UNLESS I deconstruct the monster list. If you trim its claws, wash its fur, and tell it to use its inside voice, it’s no longer a monster. Now it’s a sweet cuddly bear list, easy to handle.
All monster metaphors aside, if you can break apart the to-do items into small tasks, assign them to a specific week or day, and create a deadline to finish it by, then it becomes do-able.
So. How do you get started with this process?
Rinse and sort.
You know when you buy the fancy bag of rice, and the instructions tell you to rinse and sort for impurities. You look for the things that don’t belong — like tiny rocks or damaged grains. They don’t make your rice taste any better. They make it worse. So you toss them.
When you are overwhelmed by your list, look at what’s on it and ask yourself if it really matters. Can you take it off your list? As a perfectionist, I end up with the most trivial things on my list that take time away from what really matters to me and don’t even provide a decent payoff. It’s incredibly freeing to be able to acknowledge that it’s okay to let it go — and then genuinely let it go.
In my above list example, I “outsourced” the windshield wipers to my husband. I generally find it hard to ask someone else for help in a list I create, but I assigned him the task of getting the oil changed on the vehicle AND having the auto shop replace the wipers while there. Something that really needed to be done (oil change) and something that could be ignored but that I wanted done (wipers). Delegating a task to someone else and then seeing it get done is actually quite empowering.
Making the dentist appointment. This one is so easy, and yet I always put off phone calls because I dislike talking on the phone so much. This is where I bring in the skill of batching tasks, which is grouping together actions like phone calls. If I need to make 3 calls but I do them in 1 sitting, then I only have to get myself psyched up to do phone calls 1 time. I don’t have to expend as much energy.
I can also group together computer-related tasks. Sometimes I batch tasks that I can do “with my kids following me around” (since that happens often and also since not *every* to-do can be done this way).
Deconstruct and take action.
That final item on my to-list from above: The baby book. This task never feels URGENT, but I know that down the line, I will want this neatly assembled book of personal memories. Since I’m not willing to “rinse and sort” this one and I can’t really “outsource” it, I need to deconstruct it.
I break the big task down into small chunks that I can write out in individual action steps. I’ve chosen to put them into 30-minute increments that I can reasonably do. This way it doesn’t feel overwhelming, and I can do a little bit each day.
Here’s what making my son’s first-year baby book looks like, deconstructed:
- Go through the first year photos and make a folder on my desktop to collect all the favorites. (Do this is 30 minute chunks until I get through all of them.)
- Gather all the milestone facts and measurements, and type them into a blank document.
- Decide on the book template. (I’m doing it digitally so that I don’t have to print out photos and assemble it by hand. I chose Shutterfly to create my custom book since I’ve used them for many projects in the past.)
- Upload my photos to the online project
- Put the photos in the template as I want them.
- Place the order and victoriously erase the project from my to-do list!
With this project I’m committing to scheduling 3 – 30-minute increments per week after the kids go to bed until the project is done.
My garage. Ick. The project was looming over me for months. There were so many things about it that were undesirable or impossible. Most of the clutter was baby stuff that I knew I was done with. I finally decided to delay it for a year. My 1 and 3 year-old boys were still quickly outgrowing clothes and toys and I knew I would continue to add to it. In addition, using my valuable free time for this task was depressing. Once they are older and we get out of the “survival mode” years, it won’t feel so daunting.
I rescheduled the full task to a later date, meaning I actually added it into my google calendar for a year from that day.
I replaced it with the considerably smaller task of buying plastic bins and storing the clothes and delicate items so they kept for the extra year.
You don’t have to be defeated by your to-do list. I know what it feels like to be drowning in undone projects, buried underneath a pile of seemingly impossible goals. And I also know what it feels like to be able to dig yourself out. To open up real estate space in your brain for more desirable projects, and to feel confident that you can get ahead of the list next time it starts to build.