Lately I’ve been talking a lot about how to get more done. While I’m a big advocate of pursuing multiple things, the truth is, no matter how much you accomplish, there will also be many things that you wanted and intended to do that did not get done. I know you have those line items on your to-do list that you just keep moving from one day, or week, or month, or year, to the next. I know I do!
It’s so tempting to focus on those yet-to-be-done tasks instead of appreciating what you did complete. But you can’t let feeling bad about whatever’s left undone weigh you down; beating yourself up just isn’t useful. It lowers your energy and that makes it harder to do the work you want and need to do.
Here are some ways I’ve found to be more realistic about what I can actually expect to complete in any given time, and how to not beat myself up about those things that remain undone at the end of the day (or week, or month, or year):
Look for where you’re doing magical thinking
I am very prone to this: I’ll carve out two hours to work over the weekend and I’ll get at least three things done! Ha ha ha ha ha. I don’t know if I’m getting slower as I get older or I just am prone to moments of delusion, but there is only so much I can accomplish in a two-hour stretch. Some days it’s a lot, and some days it’s 1/3 of one thing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it really just doesn’t matter. Timing is not our business, remember? But you can ease some of the pain of feeling like you’re not moving fast enough by setting some realistic expectations, and build your trust around the idea that consistency and progress and more important than completion.
Do your best to plan
To help root out magical thinking, look at your calendar and think about when you’ll do which task on your list. Do the number of hours you have available match the number of hours you need to get things you want to do done?
Be OK with the unplanned
Despite how much thought you put into how your day and week will go, things crop up that derail those plans. Two weeks ago I got an invitation to speak to a group of actuaries the following day. So some of the stuff I had planned to do didn’t get done as I took some time to prep and deliver that talk. Don’t let yourself feel like you didn’t accomplish anything because you took good care of something that came up unexpectedly. It totally counts!
Give yourself credit for the things you do routinely
I’ve recently started a weekly 15-minute accountability call with a regular coach where we set goals for the upcoming week and review how well we did on our goals from the previous week. My buddy shared an insight that I’ve found really helpful. She said she hadn’t been giving herself credit for the hours with clients that she does every week, without fail. Which is silly considering that’s how she makes her money! Acknowledge the things you do that are so routine that you don’t need to put them on a list to remember to do them.
Forgive yourself for the things that don’t get done
There will always be some things that you keep kicking down the line to next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. It’s inevitable. Resist the urge to feel shitty about yourself for not doing these things more quickly! Tell yourself: I trust that my best efforts will help everything happen exactly when they need to. Deep down, you know what needs attention and what doesn’t—it’s possible that these things just don’t truly require your efforts right now, even though your inner taskmaster would like to be able to cross them off the list. If it takes six weeks to get them done instead of one it will be OK. You are a good person. You are doing good work. Forgive yourself so you have the lightness and the wherewithal to keep going.