Standing rules on their heads – the “did that” list

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?

6 responses to “Standing rules on their heads – the “did that” list

  1. What a really good idea! I have never been a list person the only one i used to have was in my head but my head doesn’t work any more :). The other idea i say once was a rolling list – day 1 you write a list – day 2 you start with the things you didn’t do the day before then add the rest and so on and so forth.

    • Glad you like it, Beverley!

      I don’t want to dismiss rolling lists – they probably work for some people 🙂 !
      Unfortunately, what happens for me is I start with Day 1, 15 things to do…Day 2, 7 new things plus 10 left from Day 1…Day 3, 8 from Day 1, 4 from Day 2, 10 brand new things….Day 4, well you get the idea. I do get some of the jobs done, but the list gets longer and longer and longer until I can’t even look at it any more.

      • it’s depends what you mean by jobs? If you means chores then i try and do one a day. Then i also write my blog, read emails, eat and clean up, feed the cat, etc but everything takes me such a long time to do. i don’t stress any more.

      • Well…maybe the best way I can explain is to show you a recent list from a couple of weeks ago! It went like this –
        Before 10 a.m.:
        Write (next scene of current novel)
        Put Holy Week schedule on my church’s Facebook page
        Start flyer for an open house coming up soon
        Check connectivity between the church’s 2 computers
        (I’m getting ready to network the accounting program between them. I need to make sure they can “talk to” each other every day, not just once in a while, so I ran over to church and checked them every day for a week)
        10 a.m.: Phone Mom and get her to take her pills
        If possible, post to blog before 10:30
        10:30 leave for Barnes &Noble to meet (my friend)
        (don’t know if you have them in England; B&N is a chain of large bookstores with coffee shops where you can sit and talk as long as you want to)
        Finish open house flyer
        Start seeds for tomatoes and peppers
        Laundry

        I did get a good bit of this done, but it took several more days to get around to making the flyer, updating the Facebook page, and starting the seeds.

  2. Hi! I love the idea of did lists. I’ll give it a try. Just wanted to encourage you to consider sending me a couple of your favorite Alphabetaphilia sentences. I’m almost through putting together the Chapbook PDF and I regretted not getting to choose a lot of your sentences!
    best,
    Laura H lhoopes@pomona.edu

    • Thanks, Laura! As for Alphabetaphilia – I did send you a selection on March 31 (or I thought I did!) Could it have been caught in your spam filter? Anyway, I’ll try again by clicking on the address in your message. Thank you for wanting to include me!

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