Pretty much everybody knows the standard rules for how to improve yourself and your life. So why do we spend so much time feeling like we just can’t get things right?
Sometimes, it might just be that the rules are wrong. Or, at least, not always the most helpful approach. For example, we all feel like we have too much to do, right? We just can’t seem to keep up with it all. We’re so horribly disorganized. We must be lazy or stupid or something.
Or maybe we’re going about it the wrong way.
One rule I learned years and years ago says that you should start the day by making a to-do list. The more complicated version of this rule then tells you to set priorities on each item in the list. And after that, I’ve seen various other add-ons that I can’t remember at the moment; I only remember that trying to follow them meant spending an hour or two just to work on the list.
(And maybe to-do lists, even prioritized to-do lists, work well for you. My experience is that they can be useful at times when I’m facing a short deadline – three days away at the most – with a lot of small tasks that need to be done in the right order.)
But as a general-purpose tool to Fix My Life? Well, no. I’ve tried making lists of all the stuff I ought to do. By the time I get to the third page, I’m feeling horribly anxious and overwhelmed. Prioritizing all the stuff as “A”s that need to be done right now or else, “B”s that have to be done but aren’t quite as urgent, and “C”s that I’m supposed to delegate just makes me feel worse; somehow all the things that I wish I didn’t have to do at all turn out to be “A”s.
(And who on earth do the Advice Experts think I’m going to delegate the “C”s to? My secretary who doesn’t exist? My cleaning woman who doesn’t exist either? If I could delegate this stuff to anybody, I wouldn’t have a problem.)
You know what does seem to help? Just recently, I’ve started making what you could call “did that” lists. Instead of starting the day by staring at all the things I haven’t done, until I feel like spending the rest of the day hiding in the closet where the list can’t find me, I end the day by reminding myself of what I did accomplish.
What good does that do? Well, first of all, it gets me out of the spiral of feeling as if I never do anything useful. Second, I’m not very good at realizing how much time it really takes to finish projects; looking at a list of the stuff that filled up the day is starting to make me grasp that I really can’t fit everything in. And finally, glancing over a week or so of “what I did” makes it easier to notice which projects are being neglected.
Sometimes looking back at where you’ve been actually helps you to move forward. Who’d have thunk it?