I will openly admit that I have been guilty of leaving things on my ‘to-do’ list that I had no intention of actually doing. Things that seemed like a great idea at the time but had stopped being a priority. Things that I planned on doing with the best of intentions but just never got around to.
While these sort of activities remain on your list, you will never be free of them. If you are able to realistically prioritize them though, you will feel more in control.
You will be much more confident if you know that the things that you have to do, are actually things that need to be done.
Do you feel trapped by your to-do list?
Depending on how you manage your outstanding tasks, they will have varying levels of impact on your time and mental availability.
If you are constantly reading something on a list, it will capture your attention and thoughts each time you see it. This is the purpose of having a list of things to do after all.
These effects will be even worse if it is something that you just try to remember. It will remain somewhere in your mind and surface from time to time.
On their own each of these distractions may be small. However when put together, they have the potential to really add up.
Whenever you are thinking about something that you need to do, you are not thinking about whatever you are actually doing.
Even if you just have a number of smaller things that need to be done, these can add up and place unnecessary stress on you. Knowing that there are a number of things that you need to get done can make you feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Why haven’t you done that yet?
In broad terms there are generally two reasons that some tasks are left longer than they should:
- It is boring or tedious but still important enough to be something that you really should get to some day
- It is really not important or interesting enough to be a priority
When deciding whether something will appear on a to-do list, I like to keep this simple flow chart in mind.
As someone who draws flowcharts and diagrams as a large part of my job it generates many confused looks. It is extremely simple. It looks like it was created in about 5 minutes. That simplicity is part of the beauty.
It also serves as a reminder that things don’t need to be perfect to be finished.
Best intentions are not action
At one point I had a note on my to-do list for about 6 months to return a phone call to a former work mate. This is a person that I genuinely liked enough to want to remain in contact. She went as far as leaving a voicemail after I moved cities that I had every intention of returning. I fully intended on returning the call and actually looked forward to catching up.
The only thing stopping me that that I could never find the right time.
I actually looked at the note and thought ‘I really need to call her back’ every week for about 6 months. I knew after about a month that a text message wouldn’t do.
After 6 months I knew that I had already spent more time thinking about calling than the actual call would take.
The moment of realization came when I realized that if I hadn’t been able to find the time to make a 15 minute phone call after 6 months, it probably wasn’t a priority. This may seem like a hard approach. I view it more as a point of honest realization.
Time is the most valuable resource that we have. It is the one thing that you will never get back once it is gone. There will always be other opportunities to pursue. There will not ever be enough time to chase them all though.
It is completely ok to make empowered decisions around what you spend your time on. Just because at some point you decided that you were going to do something (normally) doesn’t mean that you can’t later change your mind.
It is your time. It is your life.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are spending it in the way that works best for you!
Photo by Lotus Carroll