The Source of Your Negative Feelings About All Your Stuff To-Do

Think about all the stuff you have to-do.

Do you feel anxiety?

Do you feel guilt?

Did you just remember you forgot to reply that email you were supposed to reply to days ago?

This sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to-do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself.

To avoid feeling this anxiety or guilt, there are three things you can do:

  1. Don’t make the agreement
  2. Complete it
  3. Renegotiate it

Here’s an example from the master of Getting Things Done, David Allen:

If you’re like most people you probably have some storage area at home, maybe a closet that you told yourself a while back (maybe even six months ago) you ought to clean and organize. If so there’s a part of you that likely thinks you should’ve been cleaning your closet twenty-four hours a day for the past six months! No wonder people are so tired! And have you heard that little voice inside your own mental committee every time you walk by your closet. “Why are we walking by the closet?! Aren’t we supposed to be cleaning it?! Because you can’t stand that whining, nagging part of yourself, you never even open that closet anymore if you can help it. If you want to shut that voice up you have three options for dealing with your agreement with yourself:

  1. Don’t make the agreement: Lower your standards about your closet (You may have done that already). “So I have a messy closet… who cares?”
  2. Complete it: Keep the agreement – clean your closet
  3. Renegotiate it: At least put “Clean closet” on a “Someday/ Maybe” list note: this is a list David Allen creates as part of the Getting Things Done system. Then when you review that list weekly and you see that item, you can tell yourself, “Not his week.” The next time you walk by your closet, you won’t hear a thing internally other than “Ha! Not his week!”

There’s a part of our psyche that doesn’t know the difference between an agreement about cleaning the closet and an agreement about buying a company. In there, they’re both just agreements – kept or broken. If you’re holding something only internally, it will be a broken agreement if you’re not moving on it in the moment.

In practice, I’ve realized for most tasks, “1. Don’t make the agreement” isn’t going to happen and I am going to want to take action.

So next is 2. “Complete it.” But completing the task is the “obvious” solution and I’d like it to be the most common thing I do when it comes to tasks.

Therefore, the biggest question mark for me was does “3. Renegotiate it” actually work?

It does. It actually works. When I put something on my Someday/ Maybe list, when I encounter that “thing” in real life, instead of feeling guilt or anxiety, I actually hear a voice in my head that says “Nope, you’re on my someday/ maybe list. Nothing here to think about. Moving on.”

If the above resonates with you, I strongly recommend David Allen’s book: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.” There aren’t many books that “split my life in half” ie after reading it my life just wasn’t the same as before, but this book definitely makes that list.

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