“To Do” lists are funny creatures. On the one hand, they can be incredibly helpful ways of keeping our heads clear and present by giving us a more stable and reliable storage shelf than the three pound cauliflower shaped lump of grey matter inside our skulls. On the other hand, they can become an endless justification for always feeling like no matter how much you get done, there’s always more to do.
One simple distinction that most people find helpful if and when they get stuck on something on their list is to notice “is this an actual action or a project’?”
An action is something that can just be done (or not done) right now; a project (or “mini-goal” sounds a bit like an action but actually involves multiple steps.
For example, let’s take a surprisingly common item on someone’s list – “Write a book”. Even if I was talking to Isaac Asimov ( author of over 400 books) or Ryoki Inoue (author of over 1075 published titles), they couldn’t “just do it” while I was waiting. There would be ideas to be brainstormed, research be done, periods of writing and periods of reflection and periods of editing.
Or another common list item for businesses that is often procrastinated on or avoided – “Sort out unpaid invoices”. While it’s possible that any one of the unpaid invoices on a company’s ledger might be sorted out with one phone call, the reality is that there are probably multiple papers to be sorted through, calls to be made, invoices to be sent, and messages to be followed up on before we could cross the item off our list.
To make this practical with your own “things I’m avoiding doing” list, run through it and see what’s an actual action item and what’s a project disguised as an action item.
- For each action item, do it or leave it for now.
- For each project, jot down the next step – what’s the very first action that you could take right now to move forward on your mini-goal? Then either take it or leave it for now.