Chop! Chop! Reducing mammoth tasks

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Yummmmm … nothing like a slice of yummy chocolate cake, but wouldn’t you rather have the whole thing?  I’ve had a few friends of late comment on how some things never get done.

One friend wrote recently that they had devoted a chunk of time to sorting the photos on their hard drive and after a while got too exhausted, overwhelmed and bored with it. How often is this the case in your own life?

The psychological impact of this, is that the ’emotional memory’ of the ‘experience’ will stay in your head of how ‘exhausting, draining, repetitive and time consuming the process felt‘ and you will find you won’t want to revisit the task again. And so the cycle of procrastination, avoidance and task build-up begins. Believe it or not, it probably started back in high school. (I’m currently going through this process with my son and the stress of assignments that have been left until the last minute, yet again).

So? What to do? The best way to treat such tasks or projects (yes even your personal projects), is to address them the same way you would a work or school assignment. Create a time and an hour or so (or a whole day) on a schedule to do it and chip away at it. OK, so it might take weeks, months (if it’s an art piece, or craft or fitness goal) or years (if you’re renovating or writing a book or album of music, or rebuilding that classic car), but at least you know in your mind that you are chipping away at that mountain. Your reward may not be a pay packet, but instead that feeling of having a task completed and the personal satisfaction that comes along with it.

I started this process with myself some time ago. While trying to juggle parenting with planning a small home business and volunteer work, only to find that my own personal projects got put in the too hard basket. It disappointed me because some of these more creative projects are what enrich me and help me to enjoy my life and I’d somehow made them less important. I got resentful one day and said “that’s it! I want them back!” After a year I have now replaced some task slots with new projects.  As one is completed, I either keep that time slot for a new project, or use it as a kind of time slot to ‘revisit and maintain’ any others that maybe on-going like photos which are constantly generated or recipe files.

Incidentally,  it started when the TV programming became soooo bad over the holidays, I thought this was the ideal time to find something else to do. Such a good habit this has become. I rarely watch evening TV these days because I enjoy looking forward to my ‘ME hour’ instead. In fact I guard it selfishly some nights, especially if I’ve had a frustrating day. It is my ‘hour’ to dedicate to something I’m trying to chip away at, specifically for me, that isn’t about work, or normal domestic ‘must do’s’. Sometimes the repetitive nature of the task is the perfect zen-like zoning out ‘thing’ I need.

More importantly, when you do this, you change the internal dialogue to not hear the word ‘fail’ but the words ‘getting somewhere’. Revisiting the task each week for an allocated amount of time, as opposed to trying to dedicate a chunk of time every now and then can take the chore out of it. On my schedule/calendar I have the words ‘My Project List’. I keep the actual list elsewhere because it changes over time.

Give it a try … make a list of 3-5 things you want to chip away at and plot 3 to 5 hours on your weekly calendar and assign them some time. Incidentally, plotting a different task for each of these hours also adds variation and takes the boredom out of it. (I doubt even I could sort photos for an hour every night without being paid to do it!).

Example Schedule:

Between 7-8pm (or whatever hour fits in your schedule, on any given day)

  • Monday: Sort or scan photos and back up to discs or cloud
  • Tuesday: De-clutter & compile recipe file, create weekly menu and shopping list
  • Wednesday: Any mending or sewing projects
  • Thursday: Continue craft project or indulgent bubble bath, manicure & pedicure night (yes, you can be a project)
  • Friday: Family game night or movie night in with take-away ~
    or family weekly dinner and movie night out
    (or this could be assigned as Mum & Dad’s date night)
    Maybe you’ve been wanting this to happen ~ schedule it to make it happen!
  • Saturday: Continue small renovation project, or de-clutter next small area on list
  • Sunday: Decluttering a section of the garage, or tend vegie patch

As you can see, it’s flexible, some nights may have a few options to suit your mood or need, like the bubble bath night vs crafting. Before you know it you’ll have rid of 3-5 projects simultaneously; make yourself feel better mid-week; and make sure you have either allocated some quality family time or some quality relationship time with your significant other. Instead of hearing the words ‘fail’, ‘hopeless’ or ‘too hard’ echoing in your ears and making you feel bad.

Another thing to remember is that this can be flexible. If something happens on a Thursday or Weekend during that allocated time slot, all is not lost. It is not meant to be rigid, it is meant to be a flexible reminder to help keep you focussed on the bigger picture. Just because you missed it this Thursday doesn’t mean you’re a fail, because you always have next Thursday plotted to make up for it.

Lastly, just on projects, I am a huge fan of Alejandra Costello and I was so hugely impressed by her ‘Tetris-like’ project planning boards that I now do a similar thing on a smaller scale for ‘my’ creative projects. I used Washi tape to pretty up and divide up the columns on my smaller white boards. Like Alejandra I liked the interactive and visual way that the sticky notes work for me. I also like the way I can move them around the board to different columns, especially when a project may go through many steps or phases of development, and being a creative means that if for example when I’m styling a product shoot or the process of ‘making’ something, and my hands get grubby I don’t want to touch a keyboard or page in a book. Likewise if I’m doing something delicate such as organising photographic material into boxes for a client, I wear special gloves to handle the prints and I don’t want to be constantly putting the gloves on and off. So to be able to glance at a project board, all colour coded works for me. I do however, also use my digital calendars (mainly for appointments and date claimers), and use a hand-written ‘day runner for notes on the run. Digital planners can be a tad restrictive in that way and day runners are a handy chronological way for me to go back in time should I need to recall anything. I keep them for about a year. For paperwork in progress I use a tickler file. I will cover how I use all these in more detail in another article, but for now, I’ll finish by saying I find all methods inter-connect and compliment each other. No ‘one’ scheduling system trumps the other, and no ‘one’ scheduling method works for everyone, but I’ve found these work for me, and maybe they might work for you too?

Click on the following link to Alejandra.tv for a video on the brilliance of how Alejandra’s Project Planning Boards work.

So take back your life from whatever depressing TV vortex you’re sucked into, or, instead of getting lost in the dreamy visions of projects on Pinterest that ‘everyone’ else is getting on with, make some of those projects a reality yourself by scheduling a date with yourself.

More importantly, if you are a parent, what you are doing is modelling to your children on how to organise yourself, maintain a healthy work-life balance into your day, and chop up big goals into little ones. Don’t be a role model for procrastination, be a role model for success!

What will you do with your hour? What are you waiting for?

Chop! Chop!

 

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