The frustration of my to-do list

I went to share an email about my goal setting webinar, a five-minute job, but as I wrote it and went to get the link to the associated workbook, I realised the workbook needed updating – another five-minute job. This happens all the time, the frustration of getting through my to-do list. Specifically, going to do a job and realising I have x other jobs to do before I can do the one I set out to do!

I shared my frustration in a weekly catch up with my business tribe and they too have experienced it. Of course, it’s not just the self-employed, it happens in at work and at home:

  • You’re looking for a new role so you go to send out your CV then realise you haven’t updated it since you last had to apply for jobs. Then you have to search through your appraisals or try and remember what your achievements were, because, despite good intentions to do so, you didn’t write them down. {me neither!}
  • You need to hang out the wet washing, but before that, you need to clear the dry laundry from the drying spaces, before that you need to empty the washing basket of clean, dry laundry from the previous two loads!
  • Trying to leave the house only to find you have to go back in to find your car keys, or in the current climate – a mask!

I am sure you can share other examples too.

How do we remove the frustration of a to-do list?

The truth is that there is no easy fix for the frustration of a to-do list. These things are a symptom of the underlying cause which is that we are too busy. I think our mental to-do lists are so long we have to prioritise what’s in front of us. We can’t (or don’t) make time to slow down and work on one thing at a time, we don’t delegate and we try and do it all!

Slow down

So might the solution be to slow down? To reduce our to-do list on any given day so that we have more time? I think it probably depends on the person. I am a busy person, I always have been and honestly, I like it. So should I just live with the feelings of frustration?

The planning fallacy

If we take a step back, I think much of the frustration comes when we expect that a task will only take x minutes and so we allocate that time and when, as it inevitably does, goes over the allocated time, and impacts on the next task. We underestimate how long a task will take and overestimate our efficiency and then get frustrated!

Did you know that there is a phenomenon called the Planning Fallacy? It was discovered by two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The planning fallacy is, as described by Bueller, Griffin, and Ross in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

The tendency to hold a confident belief that one’s own project will proceed as planned, even while knowing that the vast majority of similar projects have run late.

This is important because many of us feel ashamed or angry with ourselves when we don’t accurately predict time. But we all do it, we are not alone.

Strategies that might help

I know that I put off things until I need to do them and so is it really just a case of prioritising? I think it’s a case of conscious prioritising. A mix of slowing down, being realistic about how long a task might take (including pre-empting issues). Here are three things I find useful:

  1. Plan your day, choosing three tasks – big or small and focusing on those.
  2. Do as much as you can ahead of time (if you are that way inclined) or at least allow the time you need and/or planning some extra contingency time.
  3. Celebrating the small wins. Achieving part of a task is better than none of it. I generally follow the 85% rule – that if you get 85% of the task done (not necessarily all in one go) then you can call it a success, no matter how small the task.

Do feel free to add your experiences below and share your wisdom!

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