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There’s So Much to Do, I Can’t Do Anything—Part III

Part I—Describing the purpose of your work.

Part II—Creating focus areas so that you can look at your life in smaller pieces.

Step Three: Divide, List, and Conquer

Once you have your main focus areas, it’s time to add goals, projects, and tasks for each one. We (mostly) can’t do more than one thing at a time, so we’re going to lay things out, make them hold still, and quiet them down.

11-08 Leaves

Copyright Jeanne Farrington

To get past that “I can’t do anything” feeling, you have to do five things:

  1. List the things that you want/need to do, especially those that are bothering you. Listing them by your main focus areas helps. On paper, on your computer, online: whatever works for you. On those “I can’t do anything” mornings, paper might be the easiest. Don’t get hung up on the form. This is not the time to learn or invent an elaborate task-management system.
  2. Pick the next most important or urgent thing, maybe the next three things, and circle them (if you use paper) or move them to the top of your electronic list.
  3. Schedule time on your calendar to work on each item.
  4. Do the first thing.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

Now you’re getting things done. This makes breathing easier. Here’s more detail about the elements in this divide and conquer strategy:

Goals. Much has been written about how to write useful goals. It takes a little time. If you have some already, great. If not, jot notes about one or two goals for each area: anything that’s really on your mind. For example, you might have one for giving back to your community, and you might decide you are going to Create and Maintain a Little Free Library (setting it up, ready for borrowers, by a particular date). For some reason, this morning, you can’t get it out of your mind. Write the goal on your Community list (or wherever it fits in your main focus areas).

Projects. These are activities that require more than one step and more than a few minutes to complete. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Give each project a name. For example, Build a Little Free Library. Once you do it, it’s done.

If they will take a lot of time or have many steps, projects can seem overwhelming. The trick is to break them into smaller steps and focus on one step at a time.

Recurring Tasks. These might be things that you do every day, every weekday, once a week…. Once you’re done, you’ll soon be doing the task again. For example, Straighten and Restock the Little Free Library. You might repeat this every week. Write these recurring tasks down so you don’t have to keep them in mind.

Little Tasks. These are things that take a few minutes, and you might do them as a break from other activities. For example, call someone who said she has some books to donate.

Once you’ve made your list of main focus areas, you may wonder where some things go. For example, does a particular activity go in Self, Work, Home & Finances, or Other? Pick the one that fits best. If it makes sense to you, then it’s in the right place.

Humans (me, and you, too… sorry!) are not good at multitasking. When many important or urgent to-do’s are competing for your attention at once, they become the thing you’re doing—listening to a chorus of “Me, me, me!” Writing things down in categories that work for you will tame them and give you more room to think and to get things done.

Once you’ve gotten through a morning like this, set some time on your schedule to flesh out your goals and lists of projects and tasks. One way to stay ahead of the chorus is to set a recurring task to keep your lists up-to-date.


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