I’m a big fan of lists. You already know that. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, one of the first things I do is sit down and make a list of every little thing I have to do, no matter how small. A comprehensive list lets me see all my troubles at once so that I have a complete picture. Once that’s set, it’s just a matter of going down the list and crossing things off. (That’s one of the reasons I even put down the easily done tasks like “eat breakfast” or “write my journal.” Once I have that master list, every single item on there appears to have equal weight. They each get one line. So when I cross something off, I feel like I’ve made significant progress. Much of my problems with feeling overwhelmed usually stem from inertia. I get feeling like I’m swamped, and so I do nothing. Start overcoming that inertia, and it all begins moving again.)
Anyway, one thing you begin to see when you make lots of lists from day to day is that there are certain items on those lists that never seem to get crossed off. I’m talking about big, overarching goals. They’re usually the ones on my work list, and they get passed off from day to day. Bitter items that won’t go anywhere until they’re addressed. But sometimes they’re tasks around the house I need to get done, and other times they’re just things I don’t feel like doing right away.
That’s where the lovely principle of procrastination comes in.
I don’t mean simply putting off those tasks until later. Rather, my experience has led me to understand that I like to procrastinate the things I least want to do. And that when I’m procrastinating, almost anything else becomes preferable to whatever that thing is I don’t want to do. I remember on my mission having a conversation with an Elder once who was frustrated. His companion never wanted to go outside and do missionary work. Instead, he’d come up with a whole slew of things they needed to do instead. My favorite that I remember was, “We can’t go outside yet! We haven’t cleaned the oven!”
That story has stuck with me, and it’s given me the key to one of my approaches to getting the few last items off my list. It’s a principle I use in writing, as well. Whenever you want an unlikable character to be more relatable, all you need to do is surround him or her with characters that are even more unlikable. Voila! They seem like little darlings in comparison. (Seriously. Look for this any time you’re watching a movie with a criminal as a protagonist. They do bad things, but as long as there’s a villain who does even worse things, you don’t mind.)
How does this apply to lists? When I want to finally get something done that I’ve been pushing off, I add something worse to my To Do list. Seriously. “Clean the garage.” “Organize the recycling.” There’s always a few chores I’d really never want to do. If I stick those on my list, suddenly the thing I’ve been procrastinating seems far preferable than the new thing.
Of course, this also means I eventually have to clean the garage, but such is my lot in life as a person who sometimes likes to procrastinate . . .
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