It was Thursday morning and I glanced at my never ending to-do list and I saw 10 items in the WORK column and 15 in the PERSONAL column. I've had times when it's much longer than that. As a matter of fact, there were more things I could have written on both of those lists, but I chose not to because having 25 unfinished items is about as much as my brain can handle.
So, as I looked at this list and wondered how I get myself into these situations where I have created an impossible to-do list, I chose to get up and walk away from it.
I had no motivation to tackle the list. It seems as if I have been whittling away at this list for weeks - perhaps even months, for some of the items. Why did I feel so bummed about that? It's not like they were things that I didn't like - there was not cleaning toilets or pulling weeds on the list (although, I really do need to pull some weeds). I would open up a document and then think, 'Hey, I should post those family pictures to FB right now" or "My workout shoes are getting kind of old, so I probably should go online and see if I can find some new ones." Anything to avoid the actual work on the list.
So, I got up and walked away. I stopped to see the dogs and scratch their bellies a little bit. I flipped through some recipes on the counter that I had been collecting. All VERY IMPORTANT things to be done, right? Finally, I went out on the deck and I found motivation! I found it in the form of a broom and a bunch of dead leaves all over my back deck and stairs. How could I possibly go on with my day with a deck that was covered in junk? So, I grabbed the broom and went to work. I didn't just do a once over; nope, I got in all the corners of the steps and swept down the cobwebs on the posts. I did a really great job of making that deck look cleaned up! FINISHED!!!! It felt so good!
It probably took about 20 minutes total but it was done. All of a sudden I felt like going back into my office and tackling that list. How could something as simple as sweeping a deck give me energy?
As it turns out, our brains love completion (or finishing). It gets all fired up (think a dopamine hit) when we cross something off the to-do list. So, that 10 or 15 minute "little thing" you're going to do that may seem like a distraction from work, could actually give you enough energy to go back and tackle the items that take longer and utilize more 'brain power'. Now, we must be careful that we harness the energy that comes from the deck sweeping and put it to good use - don't let the high you get from FINISHING turn to a bunch of short, unimportant things (emails, folding socks, updating FB, the news)!
Now that I know what is going on in my brain, I can better manage my energy and my to-do lists. I just couldn't keep this information to myself. I'd love to hear what you notice about you and your to-do lists!
In case you would like to read a bit more about how this thing called 'completion bias', I've added a few links below.