Time— despite the lyrics—is never on our side.
How many things would you like to get done that you don’t, simply because you don’t have enough hours in the day? Each day, there are things that I need to review, read, respond to, clean, fix, talk about, research, plan for, pay for, save for, or just do. I usually have a priority list of 5 to 10 items that have to get done that day—things that I actually know about and have planned for. Then, there are 5 to 10 more things that pop up throughout the day that have to get done, too. On top of that, there are 5 or 10 more things that are pressing, and really need some action in the next day or two. Finally, there’s that ever-growing list of things that need to get done, but have no real deadline. That’s the list that really gets to me.
That list never seems to go away. It’s filled with lots of things that I enjoy doing, but even more things that I probably don’t. If you know me, you know that I’m the king of procrastination. Consequently, the things that I don’t want to do are the ones that get the least attention, of course.
Only when those items cause me so much stress that they start to boil over into other people’s stress will I act on them. I know that’s not healthy for me or for my relationships, but it’s pretty much my M.O.
I recently started using a new list-making tool. There are tons of these programs, and they all work similarly. The best way for you to know if one will work for you is to try a bunch, and see which one sticks. The goal, according to David Allen’s Getting Things Done, is to get the thought out of your mind so that you don’t have to remember it and can focus on other, high-priority things. Allen says the stress from trying to remember everything is what really builds up and causes problems. The list is there to help you sort, manage, and follow-up, but it’s mainly there to remember everything for you, so you don’t have to worry about it.
I read Allen’s book. It has definitely helped, but it’s no magic pill. It takes practice and diligence to write everything down. At first, I was doing really well. The tool I’m using is an app, and it works on my phone and my computer, and they stay in sync. OK, OK, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s Wunderlist. You can find it for free on the App Store. But don’t blame me if you start using it and find some fault in it. Anyway, I like it pretty well, but it doesn’t make me write stuff down. That’s the hardest part.
Eventually, I got to a point where I was writing lots of stuff, even obvious stuff, and would think to myself, “I don’t need to write everything in here, just the big picture items.” Especially since it takes so long to think about and write the tasks and subtasks out, I could have probably finished the task if I had just done it instead of writing it down.
But the bigger question is knowing when to stop accomplishing tasks.
Everything can be considered a task, I suppose. It’s fun just to be in the moment, with no plan, no objective, just seeing, hearing, and feeling whatever comes naturally. I try to do that on vacation. I try to do that when I’m having family time, totally focused on my kids, just watching and listening to them.
During those times, it’s super hard not to let that list pop into your mind and weigh you down. It can be stressful to know you have so many things to get done. But it can be just as stressful later—and disappointing, too—to realize you haven’t taken advantage of some free time to not do anything. We are a becoming a culture of very stressed-out, very tired multi-taskers.
So I’m going to put that on my to-do list: “Just be.” Well… maybe later.