Sunday, 5 July 2015

How I learned to stop worrying and love the list

To do lists have been a really helpful tool in digging myself out of this big hole of inertia, depression and fail I've landed in over the last few months.  But all lists are not created equal, and it took me quite a few false starts before I made lists work for me.  Here's what I've learned...

how I learned to stop worrying and love the list

Have multiple lists.  My master list - the list of everything I have to do, should do, and want to do, is long.  Really long.  If it was a scroll, it'd unfurl down a four-storey staircase like something out of a cartoon.  That's no use.  That's just overwhelming and intimidating and generally impossible.

So I split my terrifying master list up into smaller lists.  There's one for work, which only lists work chores and which I only work on during the hours I'm being paid, because not being able to switch off when I leave work has been a big problem for me in the past.  There's one for stuff I can do today - hang out the laundry, do the washing up, write 500 words for an article that's due next week.  There's one for longer-term stuff, one for things I need to ask questions about or seek professional help with, one for things that have to wait until spring/summer/Christmas/the new financial year/some other outside deadline. 

I find I do need to keep an overall list - but the smaller specific ones make the whole thing more manageable.

Break tasks down.  "Laundry" isn't one thing.  It's a multi-step process that goes from sorting clothes to washing to hanging out to taking down to folding up and putting away.  I find adding each step to the list makes it easier to keep track of where I'm up to.  Also, it means you can cross half a dozen things off your list instead of just one, and that's very satisfying.

Include fun stuff.  I usually think about a to do list in terms of chores, work and unpleasant things to be dealt with before I can goof off and have fun.  But there's a cast to be made for including fun stuff on the list too, especially if it's something you enjoy that can also do you good, like exercise, learning a new skill, or socialising.  These days my to do list has a mix of chores and fun stuff.  Yes, the chores tend to come first and there are more of them, but I try to make a point to include something pleasant as well.

Work out the order of operations.  This is more than just ranking the items on the list from most to least urgent.  Laundry isn't urgent until you're down to your last pair of clean jocks, but if you leave it that long it'll be a much bigger and more bothersome task than if you deal with it regularly.  Playing music, exercising, stimming, meditating or hanging out with friends is never urgent, but they're things we can and should do to keep ourselves healthy and happy.  I try to work out a daily to do list that includes any urgent tasks, some routine ones, and some fun ones.

Sometimes there's a logical order - for instance, if I have to buy milk, go for a walk, check something in the newspaper and have a shower, the most efficient way to do those things is walk to the corner shop, buy the milk and paper, then come home, have a shower and read the paper.  But I need to actually write a list and sit down and work that out, because I'm jut not naturally organised.

Include things you do every day if you need to.   Going for a walk, meditating, and having breakfast are on my to do list.  They're things I try to do every day, but they don't come naturally to me (yet).  I need reminders, so they're on the list.  Maybe one day they'll become second nature, but for now adding them to the list means they get done more often than not.  And that's a big improvement on the pre-list system, when they usually didn't get done at all.