The Highly Doable To Do List (Part II)

by Judy Stone-Goldman on June 30, 2010

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washing fresh radishes was on my list

[This is a continuation of the previous entry, The Highly Doable To Do List (Part I)]

I put everything on my Highly Doable To Do List, including (and this is important) many tasks I knew I could accomplish with ease.  Because I included tasks I was not afraid of, I didn’t have to avoid everything.  For the truly big (and potentially overwhelming) tasks or the things I really didn’t want to do, I put down a first step, as close to a Highly Doable First Step as I could find.

Here are some examples of highly doable tasks that I put on my list:

  • make haircut appointment
  • read–15 minutes
  • wash lettuce
  • fold laundry
  • write birthday card to M.
  • return phone call to K.
  • write–anything I want
  • wash strawberries
  • take a nap (no kidding–I put this down!)
  • set up page for new blog entry (no content required)

Of course I had more daunting tasks as well, and I put down steps that seemed less imposing:

  • write by hand for 10 minutes to think about new article
  • set up draft of e-mail to Mr. Z (sticky situation)
  • clean downstairs for 15 minutes (an area overwhelmed by boxes from dead relatives)
  • find all the paperwork I need to write R’s final report
  • look up airfare for 2011 Israel trip (a trip with many conflicts and challenges)

I then took 10 minutes to write about what I was going to do first.  I put my commitment on paper and wrote about willingness.  I placed absolutely no pressure on myself to pick a particular task.  I just needed to do something.

And that’s what I did.  I chose something easy, something quick, something I probably would have done anyway.  But I did it and crossed it off.  I followed up with another item, which I also completed and crossed off.  I chose the easiest items–no apologies–and enjoyed the freedom from my self-imposed urgency.  Gradually, I began tackling more challenging tasks.  Without quite realizing it, I pulled myself out of the snowbank and began rumbling along the road with purpose.  When I felt myself veering off track or moving towards mental stuckness, I wrote for 10 minutes, observing what was happening and choosing a new task from the list. And sometimes I stopped to write for 10 minutes, just because it felt so good to move towards balance.

Breaking tasks down into manageable units is an old strategy, familiar to many (written about famously by Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird).  But this is the first I have put a name on the  Highly Doable To Do List.  When was the last time you put “take a shower” on your To Do list and then rewarded yourself when you accomplished it?  How about “eat lunch”?  “Have a cup of tea”?

You may say, “But this is just a mind game.  You are still doing the tasks of daily living more than the creative or personal tasks that create tension.”  But procrastination is just that–a mind game that turns your mind against you.  I’m simply suggesting using a different mind game, this one in your favor.

Action begets action.  Action quiets negative self-talk.  Action, particularly that associated with small daily tasks, can calm you and give your place a mind to rest.  In that place of rest, panic will subside.  Motivation will replace anxiety. And even when your Highly Doable To Do List includes “take a nap,” “read for 10 minutes,” and “condition your hair,” action will take you to what needs to be done.  Just keep writing and keep doing, and keep adding doable items to your list.  The beauty–and the beast–of any To Do List is that you can always find something new to add.

Questions for Reflection: Do you use a To Do list? What kinds of things do you typically put on it?  How does it work for you? What is your reaction to The Highly Doble To Do List?

Writing Prompts: “To be honest, my reaction to this post is ______ (then keep writing); “I get most stuck when I try to ______ (then keep writing); “The one thing I am willing to do now is _____ ” (then keep writing).

Instructions for Writing a Highly Doable To Do List: Write “#1.” Put down something you’ve already done today.  Then cross it off.  Write “#2.” Put down a task you can do. Keep numbering ad keep writing items.  Make a long list so you have lots to choose from. Be sure to include  items that are pleasurable and items that are easy.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea July 2, 2010 at 10:34 pm

I love this, Judy! A great idea – especially when you might be feeling stuck or don’t know what to do with yourself. I always use a to do list and feel fantastic when I knock things off my list. Seeing a visual representation of what I have accomplished does create more energy for me. You can bet that I will definitely be trying the Highly Doable To Do List the next time I’m stuck. Thanks!


Judy Stone-Goldman
July 3, 2010 at 8:02 am

Great to see you here, Andrea! I just found you in your new amultitudeofthings, so you beat me to the punch. Yes, I live and die by my to do list. I think I’m the queen of putting down doable things. (And if I forget to put something down, I will put it down after the fact and then cross it off!) Seriously, the list becomes a pretty good record of when things get done.


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