When Your To Do List Is A Bust

Big To Do List for July 2018

I am crazy for lists. I make books I want to read, books I finished, movies I want to see, grocery lists, honey-do lists, and daily action items. I keep my daily calendar as a list, just so I can make a bunch of satisfying check marks at the end of each day. For the past couple months, I’ve been making a Big To Do List, and writing about it here.

Today is August 1, and look at my July Big To Do List. It’s a bust. I had planned to do half as many blog posts in July as I did in June, and I still didn’t make it. I finished a few things, but those were low-hanging fruit. I got to add an important check mark next to publish up in my annual goal, thanks to a well-placed op-ed I wrote on the fly, but over all, I did not meet my goals last month.

What do you do when your To Do List falls flat? First of all, ask WHY? Let’s see. I had a lot of work (legal, not writing) and spent a week on vacation not even trying to meet these goals. I even did a lot of other writing, including two chapters of a book not even listed up there, plus that op-ed and a new short story. I found beta readers. I didn’t query because I won an award that wasn’t public until this month, and I want to use that in my queries but couldn’t.

Those aren’t just excuses. They are explanations. But here are the bigger things I’ve noticed about lists:

  • Sometimes, I just don’t want to do what’s on them. I thought it was a goal, but really, it was an aspiration, and it wasn’t as important as the things I did make time for.
  • I didn’t make enough time to do it. Some tasks seem easy but when you start them, you realize there’s a whole list of other tasks (like research) that you need to do before you can complete the task. Related to this, some tasks take way more time than expected, pushing other tasks out of the way. That FF Report was a beast, clocking in at 35 pages when I thought it would be much shorter.
  • You find out it’s better to wait. Like my querying example. On July 1, I thought 10 queries was a great idea. On July 2, I found out I won a writing award but the news was embargoed until August. I wanted to share the news with agents I query, so it was worth waiting until August to do those queries. I can probably do twice as many next month, if I decide to do another To Do List.

In an unscientific review of my to do lists, I’d say about one in five is a bust. Instead of giving up, or making even longer, dumber, harder lists, I take these steps.

  1. Figure out what got in the way (like I did above).
  2. Forgive myself.
  3. Consider whether I need to let go of a few goals or ideas, maybe moving them to a wish list where I can acknowledge they exist but not feel bogged down by failing to execute on them.
  4. Shake up the goals by adding something completely different. This month, for example, I am going to work my way through a How To Draw book I got years ago as a gift. This gives me permission to buy a new notebook and some pencils, and will hopefully stimulate a part of my brain, since clearly my brain was turned off by some of those July ideas.
  5. Reasonably assess the time I have available, and calendar my tasks in a reasonable time frame.

Today I got to spend a fun day with my son watching tennis in the sun. This was more important than anything on my daily to do list, so I’ll worry about it tomorrow. Or I won’t. I haven’t decided yet.

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