I’m constantly getting emails from people asking about to-do lists and how to get them done. I’ve been a diary and organiser enthusiast since I was a teenager and I’ve written several articles about organisation and to-do lists but task completion can be really tough. I’ve done a little troubleshooting and identified 3 reasons why your to-do list never gets done. Let me know how close I got.
1. The problem: You don’t know how to complete one of your tasks
If you have a task that has featured on your to-do list every day this week but you haven’t been able to tick it off you’re probably subconsciously finding the task a little scary. You’ve probably skipped through a whole bunch of familiar items, balked when you’ve reached the scary thing and either skipped it or spent all afternoon on Facebook pretending like you’re just about to do the scary thing but never actually doing the scary thing… I’m right, aren’t I? Read on for the answer to your Scary Task troubles.
The solution: You need to open the file
If you have a daunting task to complete, the first thing you need to do is open the file in your brain where that item is stored. The way to do this is to spend 20 minutes working on the task. Only 20 minutes. Then walk away and come back to it later. By spending 20 minutes ‘opening the file’ it completely changes the way you think about the task. It’s like when you hear a scary noise outside and you imagine it’s a giant horrible monster trying to climb on to the roof and when you investigate the noise, you discover it’s just the wind knocking a tree branch against the house. It’s the same with scary tasks – you imagine that they’re going to be stressful and time-consuming and more often than not, they’re quite manageable. So open the file and take away the power of the scary task. The next time you come back to the task after you’ve opened the file, you’ll knock it over in no time. Easy.
2. The problem: You really, really don’t want to do a particular task
It’s a disappointing fact but once you’re a grown-up you pretty much have to do something every single day that you don’t want to do. Unload the dishwasher, answer your emails, go to the gym. Most people will end up with 2 or 3 tasks like this left on their to-do list every day because they’ve been procrastinating and putting off the unpleasant thing that they don’t want to do. These tasks are different to scary tasks. With scary tasks, you don’t know what’s going to happen. With unpleasant tasks, you KNOW it’s going to be bad so naturally, you avoid it.
The solution: You need to rip off the band-aid
The less you think about an unpleasant task the easier it is to deal with. Try to make it a game and get the yucky thing out of the way as quickly as possible. Try unloading the dishwasher in an ad break of your favourite TV show, answering emails in the half an hour you have before you’re meeting a friend for dinner or go to the gym in your lunch break to limit the amount of time you can spend dicking around. Oh and once you have a hold of the band-aid, rip it off. Don’t just stand there holding the end of it… if you’re holding the end of a band-aid, your hands aren’t free to do anything else.
3. The problem: You think you’re Beyoncé
So you saw this incredibly unhelpful meme…
And you thought ‘Yeah! Damn right I have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé! WHO RUNS THE WORLD? GIRLS!!!’. And then you wrote a to-do list that looks like this –
1. 1 hour on the treadmill
2. 2 hours yoga
3. 1-hour personal training session
4. Activate almonds
5. 45 minutes mindfulness meditation
6. Volunteer at local soup kitchen
7. Bake vegan organic unicorn fart cupcakes for co-workers birthday
8. Hand wash son/daughter/fur baby’s organic cotton nappies
9. Work 16 hour day at non-profit organisation that helps all the people
10. Have meaningful sex/conversation with lover/friend
11. Have some ‘me’ time
12. Daily full clean of house including behind the fridge and that weird part of the floor that the vacuum doesn’t reach
13. Deep condition hair and shave legs
14. Get a full 8 hours sleep
15. Juice cleanse
The solution: realise that you aren’t Beyoncé
I’m all for a positive affirmation and anything that encourages people to get up off their butts and do something is excellent, but this meme shits me. Yes, technically speaking Beyoncé DOES have the same about of hours in the day as everyone else but she also has lots of money and staff which reduces this list of 15 items to a list of about five items most of which are exercise and sex. Sounds brilliant but it’s unrealistic for 99.9% of the population. Be honest with yourself and limit your daily tasks to things that are achievable. Hint: Be kind to yourself. Regular cupcakes are fine, they don’t all need unicorn farts in them.
How’s your to-do list looking today?
PS. Don’t let Beyonce make you feel inadequate…