Tuesday, July 18
In the short history of a.secret, the following has already emerged as a main theme, it seems. But I'm going to post about it anyway. After all, I personally haven't yet. And I don't see any solutions in the other related posts so additional discussion seems warranted. (In fact, the inspiration for this post - other than desperation - came from Salmon Ella and thistle starting a fight over who gets to claim the resident slacker name. I figured I had to jump in.)

I finally got myself to start writing a to-do list this morning. It's enormously long. The list contains some items that were due a long time ago and many items that would be great to get done in the next few weeks, a month or two tops. Obviously some items are much quicker than others (e.g. the difference between booking some hotel rooms vs writing an academic paper). Nonetheless, the mere length of the list is keeping me away from getting anything done. (Hmm.. maybe I should've put "post to a.secret" on the list so I could cross off something today.)

So what to do? How to attack the list? A few items are related to must-meet deadlines (after all, I don't want to embark on a trip somewhere without having made lodging arrangements), but others are fairly flexible (and have been delayed for longer than I care to admit).

I have heard the advice, and it seems reasonable, that any item on a to-do list should be bounded enough that you can do it in one sitting so it is reasonable to expect to make some progress on it. Okay, fine, so I'll go back and divide the items about writing papers into many subitems. But that's only going to make the list longer, which is only going to paralyze me even more.

So what to do? How do I get anything done when there is so much to choose from?! Seriously, this is a major concern, and I'm sure not just for me. C'mon gang, help me out. Please. Pretty or ugly please, your pick.


kodachrome said...

Oh, right. I have my own list of things to do. Crap! It's worse than I thought. I know I stick around to lend you a hand, Turq, but I gotta go!

CMT said...

I struggle with this a lot, and maybe my approach will help. I'm getting a kick out of this blog, so here's an attempt to give something back.

I'm an inveterate list maker, but not daily short lists; I find the long list better for me (and I don't separate out personal and professional tasks -- just one big list). I don't prioritize the list, I just go through and check periodically during the day for things I can do then. I call this grazing, and it might be a useful technique.When the task* is done, I cross it off with a different pen. When the list is a mess, I recopy (some times I reorder in this stage).

I have a tendency to really over-schedule and overestimate what I can reasonably get done in a day, so I stick with a single list, rather than a daily list, which always makes me feel badly about what I've done (or more typically not done).

That said, though, I have another approach for deadlines or particuar projects (or panic) that might generalize well. I go through the main list in the morning, pull a couple of things from it and write them onto a postit, which goes somewhere prominent (usually in my deskplanner that sits open). Like in the big list, I don't set an order but go through and do the piece I can face at that moment -- and when it's done I cross it off both lists.

If your big list scares you, this culling might solve that problem. And, I tend to avoid choosing by "importance" if I'm struggling at all -- I go immediately to "things I can get done so I can get back on the horse" in that case.

Also, and yes, this is possibly cheating, but who cares?, if I'm about to do something that came up and wasn't in the list, I write it down and then cross it off.

Hope this is of some use.


*Task size: I have learned to break things down into small small chunks -- very worth it for me psychologically. So, rather than "write X review article," I'll list "write intro for X rev art" and "write methods for X" .... If I can break it into smaller chunks, I do.Sometimes I'll do this under a heading ("review article X") just to keep things more organized, but that often irritates me later.

Rate Your Students said...

fun stuff on here...what a great start to the blog. we'll be watching you...

fraud, in denim said...

I find that with my lists (and like cmt, I combine personal and professional), I accomplish the most if I can get the ball rolling early. This usually means starting with the little things on the list, so there's lots of crossing-out going on, which pushes me onto other things. Another tactic is to start with the thing that's hanging over your head the most. The relief of crossing that out pushes you onto the next item.

Good luck.

Salmon Ella said...

This isn't a very novel idea, but do you reward yourself when you accomplish something? I do. Even if the accomplishment is ridiculously small, I keep myself going with a small reward. Of course you have to make sure the reward is proportional to the task accomplished so that the rewards don't eat up all your time. Write one paragraph = Get to make one comment on academicsecret. Finish the paper = Get to make a whole post on academicsecret. And so on. And so forth.

I also agree with others in that if I feel paralyzed by a task list, I start with the little things, even if they aren't the most pressing. That way I at least know that I am getting SOMETHING done.

thistle said...

I'm a champion procrastinator and have a very hard time being honest and realistic about how much time it will take me to do certain things (like write a dissertation proposal. Damn! I forgot to do that again today).

My sister recommended a book by David Allen, "Getting Things Done", http://davidco.com/store/product.php?productid=16182
and before you reject it out of hand as corporate cheese, I have to tell you that it solved the too-long-to-do list problem that TQ was talking about. David Allen's solution is to only ever write down the next step for any one project, so instead of breaking the big thing down into 10 steps and writing down all 10 (which makes your to-do list paralyzingly long) you only write down the thing you have to do next. Then, when you do it and cross it off (ta-da!) you write down the NEXT next step, and so forth.

I listened to the short version of Getting Things Done on audio tape last year, because I accidentally ordered the audio version instead of the book version on amazon.com. I have actually found his principles helpful enough that I am going to buy it again - on audible.com - and listen to it on my ipod.

Turquoise Stuff said...

Salmon, you must've gotten a lot done today judging from the number of comments you made today on a.secret.;-) Thanks for the advice. I do try to reward myself. The problem is that the rewards are way huge. If I get done just a tiny thing on my list, I feel like I'm done accomplishing something major for the WHOLE DAY and barely get to anything else. It's ridiculous!

CMT and others, I like the idea of not necessarily going for the most immediate or most important task, but simply picking whatever that I happen to feel like. I sometimes get paralyzed, I think, because the most immediate thing is something I really don't want to do. But since it's the most immediate, I won't let myself do anything else either, which then really paralyzes me. Have I mentioned yet how ridiculous I get?

And yes, thistle, I have a copy of GTD and have read parts of it, which is why I mentioned that bit about breaking tasks into smaller manageable tasks. But it's an interesting twist on it to suggest that I should not write down all associated tasks, just the next step. Maybe I should try that. (I'm just concerned I may forget the other steps that follow. Then again, that's silly, since they follow, they should be fairly obvious.) It will require a bit of thought as to what is the next most immediate step, but I guess knowing that should also help in actually making progress with the task! Hah, what an idea!:)

Great, I feel like you all have equipped me with some specific strategies I can implement. Thanks much!! I'll let you know how it all goes.

Salmon Ella said...

Salmon, you must've gotten a lot done today judging from the number of comments you made today on a.secret.;-)

Ha ha, I wish!

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