Friday, June 29, 2012

Difficulty Tackling To-Do List

I have some items hanging around on my To-Do list that I just can't seem to get around to doing. I'm not as busy this summer as I was this spring by a long shot, so why am I having such an issue? I even had an unprecedented three free evenings in a row, which would have been prime time to knock some of them out, but I was a lazy bum instead. Why is that?

Besides pure laziness, which can't be all of the explanation as I am highly capable and driven when I can get my mind around it, the are other factors that I've noticed make it much harder for me to cross certain things off the list.

1) If I'm not quite sure where to start

If I'm not exactly sure what it is I need to do, then it's hard to get up the motivation to start. On my list right now is to tune up my bike. I know the tires are flat, but I tried using the pump from the dorm desk, and it didn't work - and now I don't know if it's an issue with the tires or the pump (safe money goes on the pump...). And something is wrong with the shifter, but I'm not sure exactly, and the fenders I think are a little bent... all in all I'm just not sure of a clear path to fix it, and so I just put it off.

Fix: This is my hardest one. I haven't come up with a good strategy for this yet. I just have to muster up some self-will and dive in and force myself to start SOMEWHERE.

2) If it seems too large to tackle in one sitting

The self-help books will tell you to break a large project into smaller manageable pieces, but oftentimes the reason I have left it as a big piece is because I don't know how to break it up (see #1, not sure where to start). Usually it takes me some overhead time just to research, Google, get together my materials, or whatever else I need to do the scope out the project. I used to see this as wasted time, as you don't see any measurable progress from spending an hour or two just figuring out what it is you need to do, not actually doing any of it yet. Especially frustrating if you are picking up a project in the middle - like didn't I already do this? But the truth is if you wait too long, you have to re-do this overhead work to figure out how to pick up the pieces and start making progress again. However if I recognize the necessity of this preparation time, and give myself mental permission to spend a while just on the overhead, it seems much better. And as a bonus, often after picking through the details I then have a mental handle on the project and I can split it up into smaller pieces, a la the self-help cliche.

Fix: Designate your first task as simply overhead, as in "figure out where I left off" or "figure out where to start," and don't expect to make progress immediately.

3) If it doesn't seem high priority

Some things seem like good ideas, but there is no urgency, as the information isn't changing. Filing chemical MSDS sheets is on my list at the moment, as are writing lab SOPs for various equipment. Or updating my personal medical records. They should be done SOMEDAY, but TODAY a nap sure seems like higher priority. Shoot, TV seems like a better option, even.

Enter: Sunday afternoons. I never, ever feel like being productive on urgent things on Sunday afternoons. (Nothing should be urgent on Sundays, and naps should be mandatory. Can we make both of those a law?) But for some reason I have had really good luck working on long-term, non-urgent things. I've had my nap for the day (obvs), and I don't want to do work because that can wait until Monday, and no good TV is on Sunday afternoons, and usually I have nothing social/with friends scheduled for that evening. Yet doing NOTHING just leaves me bored. Thus, I naturally tackle the low-priority, yet good-idea I-should-do-that items.

Fix: Find a time you feel un-rushed and un-hurried, preferably on a regular basis. Maybe such a thing doesn't exist for others, but Sundays sure do it for me.

4) If it's been there too long

I'm constantly surprised how LONG some things hang on the To-Do list, and then how SHORT a time it actually takes to get them done. I always think of my grandmother for this one, who related to me once how she always hated changing the beds to clean sheets. And then one day she timed it, and it only took 14 minutes, after all the mental agony she went through procrastinating. And so now she's much less likely to put off changing the sheets, because she rationalizes "it's only 14 minutes, I can so do that!" I had a similar experience when I realized a sink full of dishes only takes 9 minutes on average. Makes washing one sink-load unit a lot less intimidating.

Fix: Time it, to get rid of the mental block! And then use that as motivation to get on it sooner.

5) If it doesn't seem fun.

Prime examples are paying bills/recording finances, and doing tedious measurements for research. Best way I've found to combat this is to bring an iPod to do measurements, or to watch TV while doing paperwork. Distracts my mind from getting bored.

Self-help books will say you can also promise yourself a treat afterwards (chocolate, or a nap, or whatever floats your boat. The books always tells girls to treat yourself with a manicure, and I always think really? That tedious complicated process is a treat? To each their own...). I never have good luck with that - maybe I'm not the delayed-reward, don't-eat-the-marshmallow evolved person I'm supposed to be! I usually do it the opposite way - I'll fix a chocolate shake and take it TO the lab to do measurements. Safety violations aside, I'll take my reward preemptively, thank you very much!

Fix: If possible, combine with another mindless task (music or TV) to pass the time.

So, now that I've given myself no more excuses, let's see if I can go be productive... or, you know, take a nap first. :)

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