If this post looks long, chill and just read it in sections – that’s why they are there :o)
So you have a task to do and then get put off from doing it by over-thinking it. Then you over-think it again a few more times just for good measure and then you realise an hour has gone by and you could have done four more tasks in the time it’s taken to mull over the first one. Believe me I know.
I have problems with ‘executive function’ which according to Wiki is ‘an umbrella term for the management of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. The prefrontal areas of the frontal lobe are necessary but not solely sufficient for executive functions.’ I think they summed that up rather well.
Here are my tips for planning tasks, starting them, staying on task, time management and actually finishing them.
Getting out of bed (I’m starting small, with baby steps in fact)
Don’t think “Oh god today I have to do so much….” No, right now all you have to do is sit up, right now without thinking about it – just sit up.
Now quickly as possible get out of the bed – again try not to over think the effort required. Walk away from the bed so you aren’t tempted to sit back down on it, even if you just sit on a chair at the side.
Ideally you want to use your getting up momentum to propel you to do the next task like going into the bathroom. Just getting there – not over thinking what you have to do when you get there and the rest of the days tasks – just getting there is enough for now. Maybe bribe yourself with the thought of a nice coffee or pain au chocolat.
Often on bad days I propel myself through hours and hours with these little baby steps (the 1991 comedy What About Bob always springs to mind when I use that term lol) until something clicks and I start functioning more naturally.
It’s easy to think these aren’t important but they do have a habit of building up if you leave them – plus they are a great way to get into ‘task mode’ and are a warm up to bigger tasks.
To Do Lists
These are invaluable for any size of task, even if it’s just written on a large Post It note. One large one is better than lots of little ones that will fall off and where tasks can’t be weighed up along side each other. I leave my lists with big spaces in between so I can then brake down bigger task into smaller and smaller stages. I also write the deadline down next to a task if it has to be done by a certain time. I know it seems like while you are waisting time writing one of these you could be just getting on with something but if you are easily distracted, have planning or motivation problems then a To Do List really will save time in the long run.
Using Time Wisely
Neurologists and Psychotherapists agree that our brains can’t really multi-task, all the brain is doing is switching quickly from one half finished task and starting another and then switching back to the first unfinished task and back again to the second, third…
While it’s on your mind….
What can be useful though is if you are in the middle of a medium or large task say you are hanging up your washing and you suddenly realise you need to take something out of the freezer to defrost (a quick but fairly important task) then just do it while it’s on your mind. Do it with the mindset that you ARE going back to the hanging the washing, don’t start pottering about the kitchen before or after. OK, I suppose you could say that is ‘multi-tasking’ in a way.
Alarms and ‘Waiting Tasks’…..
If you are waiting for a process to finish like downloading something you can set an alarm with the tittle ‘Downloading finished’ for how long you reckon it will take and then TAKE THE ALARM WITH YOU. Do a ‘waiting task’ which will take MUCH LESS TIME THAN THE FIRST while you wait, that way your alarm won’t go off while you are doing the ‘waiting task’ when you are too distracted to act on it. Just in general I have three alarms in the kitchen even when I’m only cooking something with three or less ingredients!
Breaking them down and pretending….
As I said before it’s best when these are broken down into smaller parts. It’s amazing how you can con your brain into action by thinking “I’ll just do this little bit” and then looking at how effective it was. Not very? Then do a little bit more. Very effective? Great job! Don’t give up now! I remember being faced with putting up and decorating a fake six foot christmas tree – by myself – for the first time ever – eeek! This is how I tackled it in my head.
“I’ll just fetch all of the stuff (makes a little list).”
I’ll just lay everything out in piles, in the order they go onto the tree.”
“I’ll just assemble the tree”
“I’ll just put one string of lights on it”
“Hmm, that was easier than I thought. Well, seeing as the other stuff is here…”
“I’ll just put more lights on it and then have a quick break – a break eh? So I’m assuming I’ll carry on after I guess”
(While having a biccy and a brew) “Ooh, I’d forgotten I had this ornament, that will look nice on the tree. Cool, I’m half way through this tree thing already, might as well keep going.”
“God this tinsel is tacky but it’s been requested so I’ll bury it inside the tree to add depth and sparkle.”
“Yaaay, ornament time!”
“Wow, I did it and it looks pretty good. How the hell did I manage that!?”
Pacing yourself but staying on task….
I deliberately had a break and didn’t get hyper-focussed on the task, therefore possibly burning my self out and feeling exhausted. All that does is make you remember that feeling next time you are attempting something big, which obviously puts you off even more. I also gave myself a limited time for my break (the length of a cuppa) so I didn’t loose momentum or get distracted. While I was waiting for the kettle to brew (after setting the timer) I unwrapped a few ornaments to maximise my time and to occupy me so I didn’t aimlessly wander off or get bored with the whole thing.
Don’t drive yourself nuts….
Another little tip is if you are really struggling with a certain part of a task after trying repeatedly, either take a little break or do another part of the task. Go back to the annoying part straight after with a clear mind and it may seem simpler and/or you may have come up with an easier way to do it.
Go easy on yourself and acknowledge what you’ve achieved
If at the end of the day you didn’t achieve as much as you hoped, at least you know you achieved as much as you could. That should always be good enough. No one can stretch the number of hours in a day or magically give themselves a super amount of energy – unless caffeine and/or energy drinks are your best friends, which I wouldn’t recommend regularly for your poor nervous system. You have successfully used skills which are particularly difficult for you and been as organised as possible. Well done! Time for a well deserved glass of wine I reckon….
Have you got any tips?