Playing Catch-Up All the Time is REALLY Stressful – …But I Also Have a Day Job


In my trusty Schedule Book, I not only keep a column of To-Do list items I plan to finish in the next 1-3 weeks, I also keep a list of tasks that aren’t quite as high priority.  These tend to be things like miscellaneous writing projects, plans to add to my website or organize my writing life, and things I’d like to research for the future.  I also tend to keep personal projects on there: organize these folders, paint that room, email this person I haven’t talked to in far too long, etc.

Sorting out long-term tasks in separate lists is similar to the Bullet Journal system, where people keep a master list of things they want to accomplish, then use that list to narrow down their goals for the week that they feel they can easily get done.  (You might be using a similar system to sort through your long- and short-term goals already, but if you’re not, I definitely recommend trying one!)

My problem, though, is that because I’m busy, I don’t get to the Long-Term list as often as I’d like—there’s stuff on there from years ago I’d still really like to get to, plus stuff from six months ago I wish I’d been able to make time for much sooner.

Sometimes I look at my Long-Term To-Do List and feel disappointed, stressed, or like my system isn’t working—that I’m just too damned busy to accomplish my goals the way I’d like to be accomplishing them.  I also think about the rough draft of my Secret New Novel that I’ve been working on for a year and a half (!) and had the idea for even earlier, along with the massive stack of books I want to read and other projects I’d like to be making time for. This makes me feel like I’m caught up in an endless slog and not making progress at all.

And that just sucks.


How to Deal With the Catch-Up Problem?

Feeling like I’m always playing catch-up on my Long-Term To-Do list can really take its toll.  This is because these Long-Term items add clutter to my work schedule, create guilt that I’m not getting them done, and discourage me from adding new things to the list because it’s already so long.  This last one especially bothers me, because it feels like my past goals are interfering with my ability to make new goals for the future, which feels like it’s holding me back.

I don’t have an ideal answer about what to do in this situation.  I think a lot of people would decide to cut their losses—as in, slash a bunch of the old stuff from their Long-Term To-Do List so they can focus on the new stuff, which in some ways, seems valid.

However, cutting a bunch of things from my Long-Term List doesn’t feel like the right thing for me for a number of reasons.  One is that most of them are legitimate things that will help me in some way, including ways of organizing my professional and writing life to help me in the future.  For example, after mailing out all the MFA Thesis Novel Pre-Orders turned into such an ordeal, I realized I really should be setting up a system to handle future bulk mailings cheaply and easily on a scale that works for me.  This isn’t a pressing matter, so it went on my Long-Term To-Do list, where it’s stayed for the last three months.  Other items have a similar low priority, but would really help me if I got them done eventually.

So if I’m not going to cut my Long-Term To-Do items, what should I do with them?

Well, one thing that encourages me is that since I left my teaching job in Japan and transitioned into a Work-From-Home Creative Work and Freelance Editing schedule, I’ve been slowly catching up on my Long-Term To-Do list, which is MUCH shorter than it was back in February.  This makes me realize that I’m actually making progress—it’s slow progress, but I’m still making it.

I’m also realizing that my work now tends to have ebbs and flows: Some weeks are crazy and full of deadlines, while other weeks I have plenty of time to catch up on longer-term stuff.  I don’t have to make progress on the Long-Term list every week, but if I can cross off a few items every month, I’m still moving closer to getting caught up.

This feeling of progress is really important, because not only does it give me confidence, it also lowers my stress level because I know I have fewer long-term items weighing me down.


The Ultimate Goal: Getting Caught Up

A lot of efficiency experts say that you can never catch up completely and finish everything you’d like to do.  While I agree with this sentiment, I do think it can lead to fatalistic thinking that because you’ll never be 100% caught up, it’s no use even trying, so you might as well just give up on all of your long-term goals now.

I don’t plan on falling into this trap (and neither should you!), though I would like to be more caught-up than I am now, and feel like I’m in a good place to start prioritizing older Long-Term To-Do List items.  This might mean that I spend an extra hour or two every week working on them specifically, or even take a weekend workday every so often to get more of them done.

This catch-up mentality is less about straining myself and more about taking these Long-Term To-Do items seriously, instead of pushing them back so I can take an extra evening to play video games.  And, they have the tangible payoff of helping me accomplish tasks that make me feel better about my workload!

I do want to stress that a catch-up mentality like the one I’m describing is only possible if you’re not overworked and strained to your limit.  If your schedule is set up so that you’re just barely able to get all of your weekly tasks done as it is, you’re not going to have any time for catch-up or Long-Term To-Do items.  If you don’t have many Long-Term To-Do items, then maybe this way of working is OK, but I’ve reached a point where I’d really like to start concentrating on mine.


Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *