A few weeks ago, I texted a friend and accountability partner: “When I find out who’s been sending Glynnis my journals, they’re in big trouble!”
Glynnis Whitwer is another dear friend. She’s written a fabulous new book called Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day. It sounds it’s about organization — but it’s really about the deeper reasons some of us struggle so much with procrastination and disorganization. The mixed-up, messed-up thinking and the heart issues.
And then lots of practical help and suggestions.
I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on organization (it’s actually one of my favorite forms of procrastination) and I can tell you that for me, anyway — this is it right here. This is the battle. This is the truth I need to hear.
Today, in an excerpt from her book, Glynnis shares what she has come to learn:
A few years ago, I faced a hard truth about myself. Although my days were filled with good things, I wasn’t always choosing the best things. The things that mattered most, often fell to the bottom of my to-do list. Then I’d transfer them to the next list, and sometimes they even fell off the list.
I thought the solution might be to work harder. But that only produced a stressed out, burned out mess of a woman, who was short-changing God, her family, friends and herself.
What I discovered was an internal tendency to choose the easier of two tasks. For example, if my choice was between answering emails or working on a chapter of my book, I’d start with the emails thinking to check some things quickly off my list. Only once I started on emails, I was on a runaway train of “busywork,” and that creative project got pushed aside.
This pattern of choosing easy or hard, actually weakened my resolve to face all of the challenges in my life. Although I’m not a natural athlete, I learned a valuable lesson in an exercise class.
That day, the instructor had us do a lower back exercise. At the first twinge of pain, I stopped. Watching me, the instructor stooped down to my level with a questioning look on his face. “It hurts,” I whispered, not wanting to draw attention to my weakness.
“I know,” he answered. “This exercise is going to strengthen your back. Stop when you need to rest, but try it again. And each time, hold it just a little bit longer.”
My first instinct was to stop when I felt the discomfort. But the fitness instructor knew something I didn’t. Or at least I didn’t want to admit. In order to get stronger, I had to experience the discomfort.
Whether it’s exercise, an important relationship, a career aspiration or a personal goal, the path to improvement almost always involves a challenge. And challenges are hard. They require as getting out of our comfort zone.
The good news is, the more we face a challenge, the stronger we get. Conversely, the more we avoid hard things, the more we weaken our internal strength.
Here’s the hard part: No one else can do this for us. We are the only ones who can strengthen our resolve. And we do it by addressing things we’d rather avoid and then doing it again.
The Bible has a promise for us when we discipline ourselves:
I wish I were more naturally disciplined. But since I’m not, I’ve had to learn some tricks to help me strengthen my inner resolve. One of them is to transpose easy and hard work.
This requires a paradigm shift in my approach. It’s common for me to put off hard projects until later in the day. My philosophy has been to get smaller tasks out of the way so my plate is empty. I reason that I’ll have a fresh mind when I turn to that project I’ve been avoiding.
Plus, I like checking things off my to-do list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.
However, by the time I’ve worked through emails or whatever “small” tasks I face first, I’ve no energy or willpower left to work on the hard stuff. So I put it off until tomorrow, determined to work on it then.
You can imagine what “tomorrow” looks like when I follow the same pattern of small tasks first. So, when I have an important project that must be done, I’ll start on it first. And somehow, just starting often gives me the boost I need to keep going.
It’s amazing how some simple tweaks in my habits can drastically affect my ability to get things done. And with God’s wisdom and help, bit by bit I’m bringing my crazy to-do list under control.
Glynnis Whitwer is a wife, mother of five young adults and executive director of communications for Proverbs 31 Ministries. Her latest book, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day, can you help you identify your priorities and reorder your schedule so you can live them out. You can connect with Glynnis on her blog at www.GlynnisWhitwer.com.