The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s

to do
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In January last year I blogged about Goals and “To Do” lists.  I have decided to revisit this to address why To Do lists can go wrong, and how to tackle that.

Most of us carry a rolling To Do list in our heads, giving mental energy over to them not so much through need to remember but due to fear of forgetting something.  Unfortunately, the constant reminders to ourselves, the running internal commentary of “mustn’t forget, mustn’t forget” can potentially cause more stress than the task itself – and feeling stressed is linked to poor memory.  Ironically, making such an effort to avoid forgetting or missing something can bring about the very thing you fear.

My previous blog post suggested ways to manage this, such as using streamlined and prioritised written lists or phone apps.  This can be helpful for many people, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

I recently read this book (language warning!), which asks us to re-examine the things we care about and whether those are the things which we really want or need to care about.  We all have limited energy and time to devote to things, but often get bogged down by the routine tasks which “must” be done.

It is worth asking ourselves what we think the outcome might be if some of these ‘To Do’s did not get done.  Are we looking at a worst-case scenario?  What might a realistic view be?  Are these tasks things which really matter to you, or are they things which were drummed into you as “musts” when you were growing up?  For whose benefit are these tasks being done?  Are we taking on a share of work which rightly belongs to someone else?  Do you have anyone else who can take on some of these tasks?  Why aren’t they doing so?  Does the thought of letting them do something their own way, possibly doing it badly, cause you anguish?  What will the effect on you be if they do the task badly?

In many households, one person feels they are carrying the weight of the routine ‘To Do’s that keep everything running.  That can not only be draining and frustrating, but also very isolating.  Drawing a boundary by saying, “I cannot do any more” and insisting others take responsibility can be very hard.  Many of us were raised to be “helpful” and “hardworking”.  The thought of saying “No, that is your responsibility” can be frightening because it means letting go of those expectations from self and others.  It can just feel easier to accept the draining daily grind than to risk rocking the boat.

If you want to start a conversation about this with those around you, it is helpful to use ‘”I” statements’ to keep communication lines open.  Saying “You always…” or “You never…” might well be true, but it also encourages defensiveness and closing of communication by the other person.  For example, how might you react to “You never complete this task and I am fed up with it!” versus “I feel utterly exhausted by completing this task every day.  I feel upset that I am not receiving help from you”?  This can also be managed by considering the roles you might be playing in a Drama Triangle, and how that causes things to go round and round rather than resolving.

What is on your ‘To Do’ list today?  How much of it is really yours?  What would you like to let go of, and can you give yourself permission for that?

If you would like help with some of the issues raised by this blog post, please contact me to make an appointment.

Circles of Influence and Concern

Circles of influence and concern
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Circles of Influence and Concern comes from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989).

It can be very useful if you are worrying about several different things, or one big thing which has lots of different factors.

A Circle of Concern contains all the things which have an impact on us and which we worry about.  These can be anything on your mind, from big to small.  These might include the weather, the economy, work, family worries…  Some we can do something about, some we cannot.

A Circle of Influence sits inside the Circle of Concern and contains the things we are worried about, but which we can do something to change.  Hence sometimes it is called the “Circle of Control”.

You can start by just drawing your Circle of Concern and dumping everything inside.  Then add your Circle of Influence and start moving things  into it – those you have some influence over.  You can do the whole exercise with pens on a big sheet of paper or you might like to use sticky notes to make it easier to move things around.

By focussing on your Circle of Influence, you can begin to be more active in making things better.  Identifying areas where you can do something is the first step in planning what your actions will be.  This exercise might also help you to accept that there are some things you cannot change right now.

You might feel more empowered and even discover your Circle of Influence grows bigger as you feel able to take on more challenges.  If you only look at your Circle of Concern, you could end up feeling powerless and demotivated instead.

Here and here are examples of how the exercise works.  You can use the provided template or draw your own.  You need not restrict yourself to drawing on paper, either – feel free to experiment with small objects, craft materials, sand…  It’s yours!

Perfectionism

perfectionism
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Perfectionism, or the desire or need to be/act/achieve or perform in a way that is “perfect” isn’t uncommon – it is a trap that is easy to fall into, often without realising.

“Perfectionism” refers to a refusal to accept anything less than flawlessness.  It often goes hand-in-hand with self-criticism and worries about what other people think.  While the pursuit of excellence can encourage us to work hard to reach our goals, sometimes perfectionist traits mean that we keep setting those goals back and back.  This means we are not able to enjoy our achievements as they stand but instead keep looking to the next thing we haven’t done yet.  Eventually you might reach your limit, and feel very badly about yourself.  Combined with self-critical nitpicking at ourselves, it’s not surprising that this can potentially really bring us down.

Do you find yourself dismissing your achievements with criticism (e.g. “It wasn’t that great, I made this mistake…”)?  Do you compare yourself to other people and set impossible standards for yourself?  Are you unable to allow yourself to pause and enjoy your achievements?  Do you discount your achievements because you didn’t manage something else (e.g. “Yes, I achieved XYZ, but none of it counts because of ABC…”)?

Albert Ellis came up with the wonderful word “musturbation”.  This refers to the perfectionist tendency to set extremely high standards before allowing the self to feel pride/achievement/success.  How many times a day you do find yourself thinking or saying that you “must” do this or that before you will allow yourself to be satisfied?

The big question is… How much is perfectionism or ‘musturbation’ helping you in your life, and how much is it hindering you?

Do you feel in control of it?  Are you able to shrug off self-criticism or not indulge in it in the first place?  How does not reaching your super-high standards affect your self-esteem?  Would you criticise your best friend the way you criticise yourself?  What are you afraid of, if you sit back and enjoy something you have achieved that isn’t “perfect”?

Not all perfectionism is bad – some people find it spurs them on to greater things that they enjoy.  However, if perfectionism is causing you to feel worse and holding you back from life, you might want to change things.