Maybe it’s Not the To Do List

When it comes to productivity and to do lists, there is a plethora of apps and processes that promise to alleviate us of our stress and make our lives so much better.

Many of these tools help us accomplish those things. But there are also situations where we look at our list, whether it’s in a notebook, on an app or in our head and we still get overwhelmed. There is just too much to do and not enough time. Apparently, the ancient Romans had the same issue!

I’ve been pondering if there is a root cause. Something besides the number of tasks and the time we have. Even the most disciplined people can “fall off the wagon” and need to get back in control. What causes this?

The founder of Ness Labs, Anne-Laure Le Cunff (@anthilemoon) has just begun a YouTube channel and she discusses three types of motivation when it comes to procrastination. One of which I want to discuss here: perceived abilities.

If we look at our to do lists we see a lot of tasks that come within the brief of our job, whether that job is your employment or a more casual (non-KPI’d) role, like being a dad or a friend or a maintenance guy around the house (I have the fix the headlight on my car! Update: it’s fixed! 🙌).

We can look at the list of tasks and some are relatively easy to do. For me, presenting in public comes relatively easy, simply because I’ve done it so many times and feedback has been good (or, perhaps, polite! 😉). Therefore, if someone asks me to do a presentation, I’m not going to get too anxious, in fact, I’ll probably look forward to it! Weird huh?).

In another area of my role, as a Change Analyst, I’m relatively new to the function and I’m working on an IT project, which is also new to me. I’ve been asked to develop a change plan. Not something I’ve done before. I have been given guidance and a template and plenty of support. I still procrastinate and look at the task, not with dread, but certainly with a little less confidence than giving a presentation. There are so many elements that go into a change plan I don’t really know where to start, or what is enough information and what might be too much.

As I develop my change analyst skills, this will become easier. We grow, even if subconsciously, in the things we repeatedly do.

Therefore, when I suggest the list isn’t the problem, I’m suggesting it might be the skill set required to complete the tasks on the list. Brian Tracy authored the book, “Eat That Frog” to help people get over the toughest task of the day early. My question is, “Why is it tough?” Referring back to Anne-Laure‘s* video, she also discusses two other motivational areas: head and heart. She explains it better than I can, so head on over to the video (and subscribe while you’re there).

For many of us, me included, a long list can cause anxiety in and of itself. But then, as you decide which task to tackle first (or second, or third …), you need to be aware of what skills you have to complete the task. And what skills you need. And once you have decided that, what are you going to do about it to become more competent, less anxious and enjoy the task more.

Here’s my Plan

My process will be to look at tasks and batch them. As Tim Ferriss* (among others) has written and spoken of time and time again you don’t need to know everything about a topic, you just need to know the top 20-30% of things (Tim refers to speaking Japanese and how many words you really need to learn!) To me this means: what skills do many of these tasks require and what skills do I need to develop.

Touch Typing

I have been procrastinating on touch typing. Why? Even though I am making small progress, I just want to be able to do it now! I start and stop with the practice. I know becoming competent will benefit me, especially as my mind races with thoughts that I cannot get out quick enough.

Learning how to develop a Zettelkasten

Another is developing a Zettelkasten approach to note taking to help me learn more, with more interest and, in the long run, learn quicker.

Both of the above would help me develop change plans better, as one example, and through more effective research and developing ideas.

The list itself, at least for me, isn’t the basic issue. It’s having or developing the skills I need to complete the tasks on the list; whether I am looking at the larger outcome (Change Plan) or breaking it down to smaller tasks.

Coming Up: How Developing the Skills adds to the Time to Complete Tasks

*shameless name dropping! 🙂

Leave a Reply