Is Your To-Do List Making You a Nervous Wreck?
Now that the lazy days of summer are almost officially here, many of us are starting to think about taking a step back from the hustle and bustle to relax and smell the roses. It’s time to go to the beach (Los Angeles “June Gloom” notwithstanding!), meet some friends for a lazy Sunday brunch, or read a trashy novel on the patio all afternoon.
Or does the idea of taking a step back make you nervous and anxious?
Maybe you already have soooo many things you wanted to get done this year, and 2018 is already almost half over. The idea of all those items still on your to-do list is freaking you out–so much so that even looking at your to-do list is more than you can manage.
The following ideas can help you attack your to-do list with renewed vigor, so that by the time the summer solstice rolls around you can relax on the porch with a glass of lemonade and a sense of accomplishment.
So how do you get motivated to finish (or start!) the tasks that you have been putting off because you don’t really want to do them in the first place?
Here is a Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your To-Do List Under Control:
Make a Master Plan
Set aside a full afternoon for planning. Clear your schedule, clear your desk, put on some background music if that helps. Tell your partner what you’re up to, so they can respect your space. My partner and I do planning sessions together (side-by-side, not interacting much) which, oddly, helps me stay focused. Turn off your phone and social media. Don’t avoid this–Just do it! Now let’s begin.
1. Clarify Your Values
Take a moment to write down your top 5-8 Values. Family, health, connection, financial stability, spirituality, personal growth, creativity, enjoying nature, making a difference, creating a beautiful home, simplicity, and peace of mind are some common choices–but you do you.
2. Make a list
List everything you want/need to do. Use broad categories here like “start exercising”, “organize the house”, or “find a better job”. Put your list in order of priority as best you can.
3. Link your goals to your values
Connect each item on your to-do list with one or more of your values, so that you can always refer back to this when your motivation flags.
This is your Master Plan.
Linking your goals to your values will help you weed out the items that are not getting done because they are actually not that important to you.
For instance, on my to-do list I had “learn to cook some fun and impressive meals for when friends come over for dinner”. I actually have zero interest in cooking, so unsurprisingly, this never happened. When I did the value-matching exercise I realized the value I wanted to express was “spending quality time with friends and family”.
I realized I didn’t need to learn to cook in order to live my values! I could spend time with my favorite people without cooking a gourmet meal. Without even cooking at all, when it comes right down to it. (Without even cleaning my house, if I’m being totally honest, because I can almost always entertain on the patio!) Now I rarely cook for friends, but when I order out a meal or just throw some meat on the barbeque and do potluck for the rest, I don’t feel at all guilty!
Any time you find yourself thinking you “should” be doing something, take a minute to revisit the values-matching exercise.
Take the thing you think you “should” be doing, and determine which value you are trying to express. Now see if there is another way to express that value in a way that suits you better.
There will always be people who judge you (“What, she invited us over for take-out??”), but, then, aren’t there always? If you can find a way to guarantee that people won’t judge you, please let me know!
4. Break it down.
For each broad category on your list decide what is the first thing is that you need to do in each category. Just the very first small step.
This is your Roadmap.
There a couple of different ways to decide what to do when. The most important thing is to schedule the time.
Print out a calendar template, either weekly or monthly, and decide what time will be devoted to working on your Master Plan items. Schedule specific blocks of time.
You can designate specific tasks for specific blocks of time, e.g., “Organizing the House” on Sundays from 3:00pm-5:00pm, specifically, Sundays in June will be spent on just one task in this category, e.g. “organizing the garage”.
Another way to do this is to have specific blocks of time each week for addressing the items on your Master Plan, and then just pick the next item from one of your master categories each time. This allows you more flexibility (you can do gardening on a day when it’s nice and sunny outside, for instance) but you have to be more disciplined and be sure to work on all the categories on your Master Plan, not just the ones you enjoy doing!
Ah…this is my personal weak link, because I’m good at planning. Those of you who struggle with organization may find that at this point, now that you are organized the rest is easy!
In case you are like me, though, here are some ways to give yourself that extra motivation to actually do your planned tasks in the time you have planned to do them:
1. Turn off your phone and social media!
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again–your digital world will suck you in and destroy all your best intentions. Google, Facebook/Instagram, and Apple all have experts who slave away all day long to do exactly that, and they are good at it. Don’t give them the chance to hijack your brain when you want to be productive! There are some apps that can help you with restricting your social media if you need an extra nudge.
2. Use brain hacks to trick yourself.
Spend the first 3-5 minutes visualizing what it will be like when this task is finished. Imagine as vividly as you can exactly how you will feel. Maybe imagine telling someone else about your accomplishment. Include as many of your senses as you possibly can–studies show that using more senses in your visualizations makes them more effective, so do your best to include touch, smell, sound, and taste as well as sight.
If visualization is not your jam, you can do this as a writing exercise instead. Write down some inspiring ideas about how you will feel when this is done.
“I will be so happy every time I walk into the garage to get in the car and see how much cleaner it is now that it’s not outside all day.”
“I will feel so much better in my body when I’m sitting at my desk all day after I’ve gone for a 20-minute walk this morning before work”
“I will be so relieved when I sit down at my desk and it is all clean and neat because I put away that huge stack of papers!”
3. Form Habits
Our brain has a default mode, and the default is simply what it is used to doing. You can use this to your advantage. If you put out your gym clothes and spread your yoga mat next to your bed each night it will be so much easier to get right up and go to the gym or quickly do 5 sun salutations. If will eventually become “second nature”, just what you do; you won’t have to think about planning it.
The trick to this is to start small! If your ultimate goal is to do 20-30 minutes of yoga every morning, start with just 5 minutes. Seriously. It is so much easier to add time to something that is already a habit, than it is to start a habit that takes up a good chunk of time. Set yourself up for success!
4. Know Yourself
Adapt this method to your own style.
Do you have trouble getting started, but are fine once you are “in the flow”?
Plan to do just 10 minutes of your task. Honestly. Block out at least an hour, but set an alarm for 10 minutes, and if you are still hating the job when the alarm goes off, then stop. Trust yourself. You won’t stop every time.
Do you like to see items checked off your list?
Make a master list for the month and keep it on your desk where you an remind yourself of everything you’ve done already!
Does seeing a lot of things on your list freak you out?
Do what I do–keep a notebook divided into sections for different areas of your life (Home, work, finances, family duties, etc.) and only look at one section at a time. I love those notebooks that have pages you can move around–they come in so many designs that they make to-do lists fun!
Do you need a little extra nudge?
Engage your partner or a friend to help. Can they go on a regular walk with you before work? Would they help you clean the garage this Sunday? There are also places online that will hold you accountable if it’s hard for you to find someone who has your same goal. One app you could try is coach.me, where you can join an online community for free, or sign up for paid coaching.
Do you respond well to a little competition?
Again, engaging a friend or joining a group online can be a great help to encourage you to keep up with your friends! This is how all my friends with Fitbit stay motivated. Who would ever care how many steps they took each day if they weren’t comparing themselves to friends and family?
HELP! It’s All Too Much!!!
If all else fails, and you are feeling too overwhelmed to even know where to start, here’s my suggestion:
1. Pick a friend (maybe one who is equally overwhelmed!) to be your partner.
2. Pick one thing to do that has been eating away at your peace of mind.
3. Agree to spend at least 30 minutes together working on your separate goals. You can easily do this on Skype if you need to.
4. Begin. You can continue working on your goal past 30 minutes either with or without your friend, but you don’t have to. Don’t worry if you haven’t finished your task. Just commit to the timeframe.
5. Reward yourself! Watch your favorite show, get an ice cream, take a nap, read a book, lose yourself on social media for 20 minutes.
6. Make a date to do it again.
It may sound too minimal to work, but that’s how habits are formed. Allow yourself to do just a tiny bit. In the end, everything gets done in small steps, one way or another!
Still feeling paralyzed?
There might be other issues that are making it difficult for you to accomplish your goals, and often therapy can help. Therapy is designed to help you break free from the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that have become habitual, but get in the way of you being who you want to be.
If you are stressed and overwhelmed and can’t seem to get out of that loop, give me a call and I will be happy to point you in the right direction. I offer a free phone or in-office consultation– just call me at 323-999-1537 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll set up a time to talk about ways we can get you whatever help you need!