Don’t Freak Out, Try This!

A Simple Strategy for Tackling Overloaded Task Lists

This weekend I was freaking out. I had so many things to do, all pressing, all priority one, that I was deadlocked. Checking email, updating my Facebook status, and organizing my music collection is so much easier than making a hard choice. For every choice I might make, I am choosing not to do some other critically important task.  Freak out. Arrrgggh.

After a few hours of this, I had to stop and figure this out. I’m getting nothing done, yet I have everything to do. What is the problem here? How do we work around it? Can we make this unfun aspect of my work fun enough to solve? Can we turn this into a game?

I already like making lists. This is critical to the tremendous throughput of my work. Psychologists say that short-term memory typically holds seven simultaneous items plus or minus two. I think without any memory tricks, my short-term memory holds about three things. So I keep lists.

  1. I typed up a list on an index card.
  1. I cut my list into strips with one item each.
  1. I put them all into a hat, and stirred them up.
  1. Then I drew one out and worked on that task for one hour.
  1. At the end of the hour, if the task was done, I dropped it into a Victory Jar. If it was not completed, I put it back in the hat.
  1. Go back to Step 4 and draw again.

Friends were pretty sure that this whole method was really just self-delusion, an elaborate and artistic form of procrastination. But I type fast, so this took a few seconds, and within a few minutes I was down the road toward completing my first task.

This post, on the other hand, was totally a way to put off what I should be doing.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Freak Out, Try This!

  1. That’s a great idea! I’m great at making lists, even at organizing those lists by priority, but I also feel overwhelmed when too many things are on the high priority list. I’ll try this next time I feel stuck.
    Thanks Wes!


  2. I haven’t seen anyone else talk about overloaded task lists, though I know what you mean. I first encounter related think when I heard a flute player working on a piece by Brian Ferneyhough – he fully expected much of what he wrote NOT to be played, because he intended to excede the capability of the performaer and force choices.

    btw, I found this because I beleive you are the person I am trying to find in realtion to a post at Portland IndyMedia. YOu have my email, I hope. – dave

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