Getting stuff done is awesome. It makes us feel good to cross tasks off the to-do list and the more crossed off, obviously the more productive we must be, right?
Bummer. I wish the answer to that question was, “yes, right!”
Nope. Most of the people reading this are moms, like me. We make lunches, cook meals, chauffeur, pick up toys and scraps of paper, and supervise the completion of homework. We also work outside of the home. We spend time in an office. We run businesses. We engage in creative projects. We volunteer.
And we have ideas for things we want to do that are important to us. Those ideas and dreams can fall under any of the many categories of our lives. Planning corporate sponsored community events. Coaching a soccer team. Writing a book.
Of the many hats we wear, most of us would agree that mother is the top dog. Our mommy tasks come first and what energy we have left we can use for other endeavors. Consequently, it can easily happen that ideas and projects become like the boots it’s too hot to wear in the summer – shoved to the back of the closet, waiting for the sun to shine upon them again. When it’s finally time to pull them out, they’re covered in dust and might, or might not, still be in season.
I have a bad habit of writing my tasks down on my to-do list and then moving them to the next day when they don’t get done. Then the next day. And eventually I don’t bother writing them down at all. The ideas fade to black and the project they represent is usurped by the everyday tasks that take up my time.
These tasks can be working on my next book to planning (a goal for me) or planning my kid’s birthday party, which is for someone else. Any task or project is up for shoving to the back of the closet.
Sometimes this is a legit overload situation. This is when not having time is NOT a pathetic excuse for which we may be judged by super planners and do gooders, but is indeed literal. We are already juggling too many balls and one more will send us crashing to the floor, our dropped balls banging us on the head.
Other times this is a fear/procrastination/I’d rather do the dishes because it’s not scary and I’m still getting something done situation. Yes, something is getting done. But NOTHING is also happening. The nothing in this case, is moving forward with ideas, dreams, or projects.
So, whatcha’ gonna do about it?
Self-awareness. This first step sounds simple enough, but it requires one of the most difficult things we will ever do: tell ourselves the truth. Notice. Pay attention to your actions, especially when sucked into the cycle task added – task moved to next day – healthy dose of “should haves” and “why didn’t I’s” – task added again. It’s possible to notice this cycle at any given point in the cycle. Did you promise yourself that this week you would go to a networking event on Wednesday at 10am, only to find that your fridge desperately needed to be cleaned at 9:45? Stop and ask yourself why you’re avoiding the networking event. The dirty produce drawer will still be there when you get back.
Feeling scared? Rip off the Band-Aid. When the actions required to pursue our ideas and dreams scares us, we are at risk of becoming drones. Or robots doing the same menial tasks over and over. We might use our high-energy times of day to sort, fold, stack, polish. That can be done at low-energy times of day. Use your high-energy to make the phone calls, write the articles, get the paint on the canvas, or plan a strategy to make work fun again.
Have this question on hand: what is the most important thing I can do right now? Rarely is the answer “fold socks.”
Use rewards. This is my favorite get-shit-done technique. My internal discussion goes like this: No, Sara, you don’t get to have that bowl of ice cream/icy cold beer/piece of chocolate/extra reading time before bed until you do ________. This works. For real. A note on the bathroom mirror is super helpful to remind me of the delightful reward I will get upon completion of said task. Telling my husband also helps. He has permission to ask me if I completed my task and block me from my reward when I didn’t follow-through.
Ask yourself if you’re really into your idea? Grab your journal and explore this question: How important is (insert idea) to my overall satisfaction? If the answer is not much or not at all, it could be the pursuit of this effort is not where you need to be focused right now. Before throwing in the towel completely, respond to this question too: Am I resisting the next step, or the entire project? Try and remember why you were excited about the idea to begin with. If you next step is to call and ask a friend or family member for money, resistance is perfectly understandable. But, if an idea or project is highly important to you, you’ll find a way to do the tough tasks too.
A happy place does exist where time flows smoothly through the river of our ideas, helping us to choose one and stick to it. It takes a little perseverance, a lot of focus, and a healthy dose of filtering distractions away from us. It is totally possible, we just have to choose – and eventually re-choose, then re-choose again…and now I think I’ve earned a latte. What have you earned for yourself today?
Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.