How to deal effectively with a never ending ‘To Do’ List
First of all, let me explicitly state something, am not an expert in finishing tasks, I struggle at finishing menial tasks due to the consistent procrastination and getting easily distracted.
Whenever there used to be a long to do list, I used to feel (I still feel) overwhelmed and anxious. My mind would always say that ‘ If you don’t finish these many things today, you have wasted your day, you are wasting your life’, and this would take me down to spiraling thoughts of negativity. The instant gratification monkey would take me to any one of the social media sites, the distraction devil would want me to do another thing which is in no way relevant to the task at hand.
I used to feel most of the time that the only way to overcome this problem was to somehow finish my to-do list, checking off each tasks and finishing them up conclusively. I assumed, all I needed was the right productivity ‘hack’. This led me to Pomodoro technique, Journalling ( I did get a lot of advice to try this, more effective for the female gender would be my guess), using sticky notes, scrum boards, and what not…
Turns out, I was wrong — that kind of thinking doesn’t work. There is no such productivity hack or tool which can radically transform your lazy brain into a super productive awesome doer.
Our to-do list is unending because humans are super- ambitious and always bite more than they can chew, this was true in my case as well. If we can comfortably perform something in an hour, our mind targets to get it done in 30 minutes. If we are comfortable doing 5 things in a day, we aspire to get 8 done, to showcase our skill in multi tasking or to convince our-self that we are efficient.
Hence our to-do lists never end, inherently by design. It just keeps on piling up as everyday more and more tasks will get added on to it.
By trial and error, with the help of my friends and colleagues, I understood that my procrastination rises from the fear of what if?, what if I can’t do well, what if I do it incorrectly, what if someone does it better, what if….and so on.
Another one of my misgivings was the fear and abstinence regarding bigger tasks. If a task used to take days/months, it would cause me to get overwhelmed or anxious and my thinking was that the only way to overcome those feelings were by completing them.
The task need not be completed- as long as we make some progress consistently. The key towards completion is consistency, the initial high burst which subsides to zero does not help the process. So forget the full to-do list, just pick one or two tasks which are extremely important and time specific every day and make small progress, consistently.
‘Long term consistency trumps short term intensity.’
Nothing big gets done in one day just like Rome was not built in a day. But there is no goal so big, that consistent daily progress can’t nail it.
NB : The living embodiment of consistent progress would be ants who through their tenacity and hard work build up their extensive network.