Trying to Do Too Much

One common reason that people never get done what they want to get done most is that they are trying to fit too much into a 24-hour period. The solution isn't better time management. If you're like me, no amount of time management will allow you to do it all. The solution is to realize which items on your to-do list that you don't actually have to do.

A quote from Chinese writer and educator Lin Yutang expresses this well:

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone... The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials."

One of the seven secrets in Stephen Covey's Seven Secrets of Highly Effective People is "First Things First". This concept is so important that he devoted a whole separate book to this one secret. In discussing the problem he notes that there are two dimensions to tasks - urgency and importance - and these are not the same! He suggests categorizing tasks on each of these dimensions:

Important and Urgent - Things that are important to your long terms goals, and also time urgent. You will tend to get these tasks done.

Important but not Urgent - Things are the things that you really care about and really want to do, but somehow never find time to do because they are not time urgent. This is the area of greatest frustration - reading that book you've wanted to read, starting an exercise program, learning a new skill, etc.

Not Important and Urgent - This is the major area that needs trimming, and also the most difficult area to trim. Urgent but unimportant tasks are those that are important to others but not you, things that others are nagging you to do. "Please call me back immediately!" "I need your help with this!"

It can be very difficult to distinguish between urgent tasks that are important and not important. When you read Covey's First Things First it seems very clear, but I found that when I looked at my own to-do list, it wasn't clear at all. It helps a lot to write the personal mission statement that Covey recommends to clarify for yourself what is truly important in your life.

Another reason trimming in this area is difficult is that it generally involves saying no to people, which many find very difficult to do. But if you don't learn to say no to some requests, you will end up with a life that is filled with doing nothing but meeting the demands of others. The demands of others are endless - only you can set limits.

Not Important and Not Urgent - This category is classic time wasters - playing solitaire, watching mindless TV, etc. Stop doing this and, POOF, you have lots more time!

David Allen's Getting Things Done will make you more efficient, but does not address the question of which things are worth doing. Covey's First Things First can help you get a perspective on this. It's a lot easier to get done what you want to get done when your to-do list is shorter!

Another type of problem, for me.

I think that this kind of methods is useless for me. I am very, very conscious of my priorities, but there's like a power, strong, almost unbeatable wich keeps me from working at important things. It's another type of problem, in short.

between stimulus and response there is a space ...

Yes Pythagoras, I strongly agree with you on this.  I have read both Covey and  Allen's books, which have some useful tips for me, particular the Covey with clarifying my mission and core values. Covey also gave me a very powerful insight regarding not having to automatically act on my emotions, summed up in this quote:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness. 

This is helping me see the difference between being reactive and proactive, and there is an interesting article here that helps to bring this insight to our to do lists.  

Smile 

But like you some sort of almost unbeatable power seems to come over me that knocks me out before I can even get started on any tasks or action, or if I've managed to compile a daily to do list I then sometimes zonk out for the day under the duvet, surfacing for fleeting moments boiling in self-hatred and wondering what on earth is wrong with me. 

I guess this is the compulsive, at present uncontrollable, part of my procrastination, task avoidance, & Demand Resistance. And for me getting to the root of why I might be behaving like this through counselling has taken over three years of inner work. Only recently I've had a breakthrough that gives me some insight into my chronic procrastination.

For me it's becoming aware of something around feeling paralyzed from feeling damned if I do and damned if I don't around even starting tasks that may help me move forward in my life. This old and familiar feeling I generated in trying to keep a key elder in my early life happy as a child, who's emotional and illogical behaviour put me in a double bind. I have to as an adult somehow let go this maladaptive belief that paralysis and not doing anything is the answer, and I guess cultivating awareness around this is the first step ... though I wouldn't be surprised if this 'unbeatable power' that stops me taking action or being productive rears its head again & again even stronger as the weeks unfold!  

Plus there are other articles on the P.A. homepage for us to look at, for example this one looking at procrastination as an impulse control problem is a different take on the issue. So I guess if the methods outlined above aren't a useful for you and me and others at the moment then I'd say let's see what other tips and insights we can find that might resonate better for us and aid our recovery.

Undecided 

lovely

This is pure poetry, beautiful: "the items that made my heart sink, and the items that made my heart sing." It also perfectly describes what happens physically when I contemplate certain chores, but I guess I hadn't really acknowledged it. Being in denial, I couldn't do anything about it. Now that I am aware of it, I can "feel the fear and do it anyway." Before, I was simply sliding away from it: hence my screen name. But I didn't fully grasp what made me slide away!

slider - on joy versus duty...

Slider - try reading First Things First by Stephen Covey. This is a deeply spiritual book (not religious at all, but spiritual - addresses "meaning of life" issues), and was very helpful to me. I wrote my own Personal Mission Statement as suggested in this book, and it's been very helpful to me in putting what's important and what's not important in perspective. I read my Personal Mission Statement every morning so I don't forget.

One of the things this will help you to do is realize how important certain joyful things are in life - how you don't want to get to the end of your life without having done them.

The reason I took time this morning to post two articles though I have other more urgent tasks is that sharing what I've learned and helping others is one of the most important things in my life (as I learned in writing my Personal Mission Statement). It wasn't urgent to do this, but it was important to me as a person so I made the time to do it. It was also fun - one of the items that "make my heart sing". If I was only doing odious stuff, there would be no new articles here today.

be careful, though...

...Sometimes the things that make your heart sing are very important - self-care items in particular can fall into this category. If you have a tendency to ignore self-care, don't condemn yourself to only doing the things that make your heart sink!!

Try separating your to-do list into the four categories first, and then within your two important categories, do the stinkers first.

Thanks for the new article Pro!

This is exactly what I was doing yesterday. I got my Big List, and added everything from the in-tray that needed action and dumped everything off my desk into a box to clear my desk. Then I prioritised everything on the list according to the above categories. I didn't have any 'Urgent but not Important' and I threw away all the Unimportant Not Urgent things.

Then I highlighted the items that made my heart sink, and the items that made my heart sing.

There's another idea common in business and personal development to get the big, nasty things out of the way first - these were my heart sinkers. I approached the tasks six at a time, with each sixth one being a fun thing (Important but not Urgent). I managed to do nearly two lots of six, and if you glance at the Bookends for 18th July you'll see I got a huge amount accomplished.

I learned a couple of things:
1) It worked - getting the horrible things done first has had a very positive effect on my outlook, and I'm now feeling a sense of relief
2) If I'm doing something really draining or long-winded, I could do with more than one in six things to be fun.

So today I'm having a go at doing my tasks in threes (referring to the Big List to choose the next three), and I'm preserving my mental health by using my own three categories 1) A Stinker 2) A Neutral 3) A Nice

I'm still using the Covey categories to help me prioritise.
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I like that - stinker, neutral, nice

I've heard that as well - do the really horrible things first. But for me, I have to do the stinker-neutral-nice breakdown within my first-sort four-category breakdown or I still get lost! Sometimes a nice thing can be more important to do than a stinky thing!

It all loops round anyway

And get this - Having just got another stinker that made my heart sink done, my heart is now singing!!! And I didn't have to 'bribe' myself financially this time!

Apart from a quick CUOP now (after my stinker) I thought I might want to skip to my Nice Thing, but actually because I'm buoyed up I'm OK with doing a Neutral first, which is good, because then the Neutral Things get done too. Win-win. smiling

I'm hoping I soon run out of Stinkers so I can just do Neutral-Nice smiling

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