Tackling the Endless To-Do List

This week I’m super busy trying out two different methods of data digitisation, to try determine which one to use for my dataset. I set myself a target of making a decision by the end of this week, which means that my daytimes are spent at work using software that I can only use on-campus, and my evenings are spent using a some custom-written code that I can use wherever, and comparing the results of the two. So, needless to say, there’s a lot to get done.

I’ve got a diary where I make to-do lists for the week, and tasks gets picked from this list and put in a new list for each day. Yes, it’s a lot of lists, but it works for me! But I regularly fall into the bad habit of being way too ambitious and happily allocating lots of tasks for a single day, even though I know in the back of my head that it’ll take a miracle to get them all done. I get to the end of the day feeling disappointed at the un-ticked boxes next to those two or three pesky tasks that just haven’t been touched. It makes me feel like I’ll never achieve everything I need to do to get this PhD finished! But I’ve just had a (fairly obvious) revelation that I wanted to share.

Having long unachievable lists is only good for one thing, in my experience – scaring you into working ALL DAY and taking no breaks and, sometimes, stopping you procrastinating. But this high-intensity work can only be maintained for a few days – it’s now Wednesday, I’ve been working like this for two days and I’m shattered. Something has to change!

So as obvious as this may sound, I’m putting less things on my list. It would be nice to get to the end of the day having satisfyingly ticked all the little boxes in my diary, and even with a little bit of time to spare to go for a run, or even to fit in one of those extra little tasks that everyone has to do ‘if they have time’. It’s strange not filling up the entire space allocated to a day in my diary with tasks; the blankness looks back at me, accusing me of being lazy. But I’m not being lazy, I’m being sensible – people say if you’re writing you should stop mid-paragraph, or while you’re in full flow, so why not the same with other tasks? Stop while you’re feeling good and the next day things will be easier to pick up. That’s the theory. Let’s see how it plays out!

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