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Mental Health Blog: Procrastination, Part 2

How to refine your “To-Do” lists to suit your working style.

You have read Part 1, right?

There is a problem with “To Do” lists, and that is listing tasks that are worthwhile and productive, but not necessarily what needs to be done. When judging what needs to be done, there are likely to be external forces such as deadlines set by a supervisor, as opposed to internal forces, which affect the tasks that you have set the deadline for personal reasons.

You are the judge of what are important deadlines and the time needed to accomplish each task. And even though checking off many items on the list may not help in getting the real job done, it may make you feel better about those actions.

Another issue with accomplishing tasks is perfection. Perfection is an obstacle not an obsession. Obstacles are something we can work around, where obsessions are a commitment to a single idea. Obsessions may take professional help to work out.

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One of best “To Do” ideas is to select the best time of day for the type of work that needs to be accomplished. Physical work is best in the early morning; I write best in the late afternoon. Phone calls are best in small increments of time, making one or two calls, taking a break, then and then making more calls. If you want to schedule by best time of day, then schedule both your start time and expected finish time, and keep to the schedule.

Or you can schedule tasks in order of importance. If you need more time to complete a task, stay with the task until it is done. Use the experience gathered to understand why it took longer than your estimate to complete the task. Were you interrupted? How? Were you distracted or daydreaming? You don’t have to plan out every minute of every day. It is good to understand where your time goes, what amount of time is spent in what manner, and when you are going to need more or less to get your tasks done.

Taking a break between tasks is a good idea. Build in a small recovery period. This allows time to think about the next task before jumping into that task. It is better to “sharpen your ax” before each task than continuing with a dull tool and expecting the same result.

“Sharpen your ax” is a phrase from an old tale about two woodcutters each had to split a cord of wood. One woodcutter worked non-stop and even watched the other taking breaks. Still, the continuously hard-working woodcutter did not finish first. When the first woodcutter asked the second how he could take breaks and still finish ahead, he replied that he wasn’t taking a break as much as sharpening his ax.

So sharpen your ax, have an insight on your next task. Maybe you can find a quick path to solving your task. If you get stuck, stop for lunch or a snack (plan a reasonable amount of time) or take a walk inside or outside but get physical!

Start with item one on your list, gather all the information needed, remove all roadblocks and potential interrupters— now let’s get started.