Procrastination, Doing Nothing and To-Do Lists

Woman sitting outsideThe other week one of my mentors wrote about getting home from somewhere and deciding to sit and do nothing for a bit instead of jumping into some writing that she had planned to do that day.

I want to pause here, and ask: what are your thoughts or questions about the story so far? Where do you think the story is going?

I immediately started to wonder why she was procrastinating and why she was avoiding that writing.

Did your thoughts take you down that road too?

Well, I was surprised (and a little annoyed) when instead she wrote about deciding to take some time to just sit and do nothing. She enjoyed some quite time and allowed her thoughts to wonder a bit. And none of those thoughts where things like “I should be doing…” or “I have to remember to…”

It never even crossed her mind that she might be procrastinating. And she wasn’t procrastinating. She enjoyed a quiet moment at home, with no regrets, worries or should-be’s. The point of her story was that doing nothing for a little bit every once in a while is healthy for her and her business.

Did you assume the story was going to be about procrastination like I did?

Our beliefs around certain topics automatically show up in the questions we ask ourselves or how we anticipate the path a story will take.

I realized that I assume if I’m not working on crossing things off my to-do list during “work hours” then I must be procrastinating. Intellectually I know that this isn’t always the case. Not being productive doesn’t mean you’re procrastinating, but that is often how it’s viewed.

And I was annoyed because I felt that if I sat down and did nothing for an undetermined period of time it might turn into an hour. And then I’d really feel behind on the day’s list of to-dos.

When did my to-do list become a ball and chain of activities that must be done before a magical “end of the day?” Do you have that problem too?

So, what to do about it? Well, for one, you and I could both start taking some of my advice – stop making long daily to-do lists! Your daily list should have no more than seven things on it. Go on, take a look at your list and decide what seven things should really be one it. If this is really hard for you, take a few deep breaths and I know you can do it!

A funny thing happens when you shorten your to-do list; you procrastinate less! No, really, it’s true. You’ve just created a list that you feel you can actually accomplish! That’s a whole lot more motivating than a long list that can’t be completed in one day. With the long list, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal when an extra item or two isn’t completed. But with a short list, completing that last task or two feels attainable, and that’s more motivating!