Do you feel like you're just not getting anywhere?
You badly want to move forwards with your goals but you’re just unable to? It may seem like whenever you want to work on it, something else just seems to get in the way. Or maybe you suddenly realize that weeks, months or even years have passed and you are no closer to actually attaining your goal.
If you have, then the answer to why you're not getting anywhere might be found by taking a closer look at your To Do list. And, No, it’s not to be more effective and efficient at following your task list.
Your To Do list can actually reveal a lot about yourself whether you realize it or not. By going through the following steps, you'll probably see yourself in a whole new light.
Step 1. Make a list of all the items you need to do or projects you've started but haven't completed yet.
To start with, you'll need to have a list. So, if you're someone who likes to just keep everything stored in your head, make an exception and write everything down. Or if you already have a list, make sure it's complete with everything you know you have to do but haven’t yet. Include the little things as well as the big things like finishing that screenplay which is going to make you a million bucks. Also, make sure you include the short term and the long term projects you have in your mind even if it's a "Someday I'll..." thought.
Step 2. Write down next to each one the reason why they aren’t done
Now, that you have your list of items, make a separate column, go through the list and write down why you feel you haven’t done the task. Usually, this will fall into one of the following 5 categories:
1. Time – you need to make some time to do this project
2. Money – it requires more money than you have or you don’t want to spend the money right now
3. Effort – it just takes effort on your part and you don’t feel like it. It makes you tired just thinking about working on it. Or other things just seem to need to be done before this item. It just keeps getting pushed down the priority list.
4. Confusion – you’re not quite sure what you need to do in order to start the project or to finish it off or you just don’t know what the next step will be.
5. Doubt – you doubt whether you’ll be able to do it. Or you worry that it’s not the right thing to do.
Even just doing this step will give you a much clearer idea on why certain items aren't done. For example, previously trying to force yourself to do something when deep down you had fears about doing it, wouldn't have worked for you. You probably would have got caught up in procrastination or avoidance of it. But, if you now know that there's a fear getting in your way, you can deal with the fear which will remove the block and you'll be able to continue towards your goal.
When dealing with fear based or doubt ones, take the time to quietly ask yourself "Why don't I want to do this?" or "What do I fear about this?" Really listen to the answers. Your first reaction might be to listen to your bossy rational side which will try to push you to do things. But, after you ask the question, wait, and listen for the quiet voice which will answer. This will reveal to you why you really haven't been getting anywhere with your goal.
Also, if you find you have a number of items that just require "effort", you might even be able to plan a day to finish just these ones off.
If you see you have a lot of money ones, then you could consider budgeting for those items. Even just knowing that you're saving for something specific and once you have the money, the item will be taken care of can take a lot of mental pressure off of you as opposed to just having them on your list and feeling like you just never get any closer to finishing them or becoming frustrated because you don't have the money to pay for them right now.
Take the time to figure out the reason behind why your To Do lists items aren't being done and you'll be far further ahead than just trying to force yourself to work on the items.
Step 3. Which items on the list do you feel are the most mentally draining to you?
Go through your list and notice how you feel when you read through the list. Which ones do you know are always at the back of your mind telling you that they need to be done? Or it could be something that’s not done and it causes you frustration. For example, you have a gate that needs to be repaired and it’s difficult for you to open and shut the gate. So, this would be an item that is frustrating to you every time you come across it. It wastes time and effort on your part because it’s not done.
Which ones are the most draining? Mark those ones on your list. You might even want to add why they’re so draining to you. Doing this will make it very clear to you as to why you need to do this task and make you realize the benefits of having it completed. You might want to move these ones higher up on your priority list.
Step 4. Which ones can be deleted?
Especially for the ones that make you feel tired just looking at them. Decide whether it’s really that important for you to do it. Some of the items on your list could probably be deleted as just not that important or can be delegated to someone else to do. Do you even remember why were they put on the list in the first place? Your feelings of tiredness could be a sign that deep down you don't think it's a good idea. Listen to yourself and if it's not a good idea, then don't do it.
Step 5. Which ones are just effort?
If you have some quick ones you can do to get off the list, take the time and schedule a day to do them. Get rid of them and you’ll feel so much better just getting rid of the little items.
Also, are there items that are constantly staying on the list day after day, week after week and you just never get to them? These ones need to be examined closer so you can see what’s really going on behind these items.
Ask yourself why that project was started? You may find that some of those projects are there because they were actually the result of you trying to avoid other projects. For example, you started to clean out a closet because you didn’t want to finish your taxes. Now, you find the closet is a mental drain to you because it's not done and you still haven’t done your taxes which caused the closet cleanup project in the beginning.
Then you know why you started and why you haven’t finished. It will be easier to move on to finding a solution if you know the thought process behind it and how important it is for you to have the task completed.
You could also ask yourself, “What would the benefits be of getting the task done?” If the benefits are really not that great, then maybe take it off the list. If you can see that there will be lots of benefits and it will reduce your feeling of being mentally drained then look at possibly breaking it down into smaller manageable steps or look at other options for getting it done. Maybe you could hire someone to complete it for you.
Step 6B. Are any of the items causing procrastination?
When you look at your list, especially the ones that never seem to get done, are there any that you really resist working on? Find those items that when you think about doing them, you suddenly find yourself doing all sorts of other things that aren’t even on your list just so you can avoid doing them. Ask yourself why are you resisting them? Are they something you choose to spend your time on or are you just reacting to things? How important are they to do? It’s important to deal with these items because they will sabotage you following your To Do list. Most likely, you’ll start off strong following your list and then you get to one of these items, and you’re totally derailed. That’s why it’s important to figure out why you don’t want to do them. It could be just that it needs to be broken down into smaller steps like “research possible solutions for…” as opposed to just telling yourself to complete the entire project.
The other reason to take a good look at them is you may find that you resist them because they distract you from going in the direction you really want to go. They’re things you do because you think you “should” do them or because you don’t know how to say No to them. The To Do list is so that you are in control of your life and this also means that you need to be in control of what goes on that list.
Step 7. If you had a million dollars…
Take a look at the items and ask yourself if you had a million dollars, would you get someone else to do the task? Two reasons for asking this question. The first is that if you instantly say, “Yes, I’d love someone else to do this for me” then you might want to take this item and put it on a separate list of projects you will do as you save money for them. You may realize it’s better in the long run to save up the money to hire someone rather than to spend your precious time on a project that’s important but not important enough for you to do it yourself.
Take a look at your list and if you have a bunch that aren’t being done solely due to money reasons, you may want to take them off your list and put them on a separate Planning List that you will plan for as you save the money for them. This way, you know you’ve got them taken care of in the sense that they will be dealt with at the right time. By removing them from your current To Do list will take away some of the draining influence they may have had on you previously.
The second aspect of asking if you would still do the project if you had a million dollars is that you may find that some items you wouldn’t let someone else do. Take a look at these ones and ask yourself why you wouldn’t. If you find the answers make you uncomfortable and you start wondering “what would I do with myself if I didn’t keep doing this?” then you know you may be using these tasks as a way to avoid or procrastinate from what you really want to do. Or you may be using them to make yourself feel important because you doubt your own self worth.
Step 8. Have a direction
Something to actually add to your To Do list is to decide to take some time to really think about what you do want to accomplish. Also, think of some basic steps you would need to do to move towards that. It’s easy to keep adding to the list all the things that need to be done but the key point is to look at them and think, “Are these items really the most important things I could be doing?” Are they more just busy work and putting out fires or are they actual steps towards achieving your goals?
Step 9. Envision
Do your tasks match what you envision for yourself? If your goal is to be a novelist and all your tasks are on organizing your house then you know that your To Do list doesn’t match your new image of yourself. Take the time every morning to really be that person you want to be. Feel how you would feel, see what you would be doing. What tasks would you be doing? Are those tasks on your list?
Step 10. What do you actually spend your time doing?
It’s easy to make a To Do list but never actually get around to doing the projects on the list because you’re so busy doing other things. So, make a list of all the things you do during the day. What you spend your time on during the day is what you’ve decided is a priority for you. You’ve made a commitment to those items. You may be surprised at what you’ve chosen to spend your time doing. To achieve your goals, you need to commit to doing them, so where are they on your priority list?
Part of the reason may be that you haven’t take the time to get a “big picture” focus of your direction. You need to take the time to know what it is you want to achieve so that you can think about how you’ll achieve that. When you just get caught up in reacting to things or putting out fires all the time, you don’t move forwards. You’re stuck in one place not knowing why things aren’t working for you.
An important thing to remember about To Do lists
A To Do list is simply a tool and should be regarded and used as one. Often it can end up feeling like a tyrant over you. You end up with this huge list of things that need to be done and you don't even know where to start and you can end up feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
If you think of it as a horrible dictator standing over you with a whip then you will probably fear even making a To Do list.
If you do think of them this way, change your thoughts of the To Do list to be a way to clear your head. You'll find that you're then much more productive than when you were trying to remember to do all those items. It also helps you to see what things you're just not going to do any time soon -- sort of a wake up call. So it will help you clear your perspective and get a better idea of a realistic timeline for you as well.
Then checking your To Do list with the above list will then allow you to see if there any fears or doubts you may have behind your goals. Also, what are you spending your time on and why?
Get back in control of your life and where you spend your time by becoming aware of all these things you can tell from your To Do list.
"It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?"
- Henry David Thoreau
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