To-do lists. Yes or no?
Recently I spent about 45 mins SHOPPING for a good TO DO LIST BOOK.
I wanted one that had useful boxes you can tick on completion and how you can prioritise using sections and add notes etc. Oh there's some lovely ones out there. In some shops you can spend up to £15 on an organiser!
If you have more of a creative personality type*, have great ideas and tend to see the bigger picture, you are naturally not a conscientious person. Therefore trying to organise yourself is like trying to make a cat a dog. It's really difficult. However if you ARE a conscientious person, you are among the highest achievers (conscientious as a trait is second to intelligence with academic success) and this stuff will be second nature to you and you'll probably be smashing your to do lists before they're even written.
That's why it's better to go with the grain and know yourself and how you work best.
Now some of you will have already have realised that all that time spent trying to organise yourself is time better spent just getting on with the thing you're trying to avoid - it's the equivalent of drawing a really nice border on your exam paper in school.
Anyway, cut to the chase, I bought a notepad and created my own sections (screw you, Pukka pads, I'm a free agent and a creative type) and divided it into three and added as much shit as possible into three sections 'work' 'life admin' and 'uni' and I subsequently worked through, crossing off the easy stuff but the stuff that requires hours of focus stays on there until the next day, leaving you feeling, ultimately, like you didn't do enough. Adding to stress. Adding to feelings of overwhelm.
So I did some research into how to do lists are actually devil's work for certain people which resulted in these key findings:
-To do lists make you feel like shit more than they make you feel accomplished because most of the time we don't complete them, they're never ending (you cross off one thing and add more and more) and we often fill them with menial tasks or 'shallow work' which make us feel productive but aren't the most valuable things we could be doing.
-Emptying your mind of what needs to be done is basically just transferring your stress from mind to paper which you can then look at. So it's still around. And, instead of just thinking about each item as they pop into your mind,you see it ALL at the same time staring at you with the look of a teacher who knows it was you who was talking.
-It's just more procrastination which makes you feel busy but is way less valuable than using those 10 minutes to take a deep breath and start on that important thing that you're avoiding.
'Deep work' (coined by Cal Newport in his book with the same title) involves spending 90 mins uninterrupted doing the most important thing we need to do, well. It takes our mind an average of 23 minutes to refocus on the task after interruption that's why it's good to block larger amounts of time to get things done.
It's good to write stuff down to remember it but most of the time just doing something as soon as it pops into your mind is most effective, as the most pressing things will be on your mind anyway - it's trusting ourselves and our efficacy ability.
Have you ever heard of that activity where you have a variety of shapes and you need to put them into containers. What do you start with? The larger items, then the medium ones slot around those, then all the tiny pieces can just be poured in and find the space where it is. But it doesn't work any other way, with anything but the biggest pieces going in first. It's the same with the things you need to get done. The best projects take deep work.
A good inspiration is the Italian influence in my life - England is a nation of multi-taskers. We do lots of things, quickly and averagely. No offence to anyone. Italy tends to do one thing properly and well. Coffee? Let's make it properly. A pair of trousers? Properly made. Dinner? Prepared with care and love.
So now I'm going to focus on one thing at a time and I invite you to do the same if you too, feel overwhelmed by to do lists, which are something with good intentions that ends up making you feel less productive than when you started.
Living Intentionally is knowing what's most important and doing that first.
*from the Big 5 personality test
If you're looking to organise your life, live more intentionally or get that boost of motivation and help yourself stay focused, maybe it's time to schedule a free coaching call to see if we can work together.
Sometimes all you need is a little accountability and a fresh perspective.