My Ten Tiny Task System

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

A few months ago I found a way to trick my anxious brain in a way that’s been something of a revelation.

On a particularly stressful day, facing a bit of a mental block about a project, I was staring at a blank page and feeling both intimidated and uninspired. And for some reason, I could not focus. All my background tasks, the boring and mundane things of life that just roll on and on like Sisyphus and his rock, were taking up space in my brain. Even though I wasn’t actively thinking about them, somewhere deep down I was worrying about them and starting to slide into a familiar pattern of stress escalation.

Anxiety. She’s a bitch.

But on this particular day, I had a breakthrough. Instead of trying to bat away all the stupid small tasks that kept pawing at the edges of my consciousness, I gave them my full attention. I listed ten that I could do quickly, in total isolation from any other task or project. I wasn’t allowed to use one of those tasks as a jumping off point for other work not on the list (scope creep) and once done I either had to do something else on the list, or go back to my main project.

These were not earth shattering tasks. Some examples:

  1. Wipe down the kitchen counter
  2. Fold and put away the clean socks
  3. Text a friend
  4. Water the plants
  5. Check the mail

It worked. Maybe just taking a break did me some good, or maybe there was a psychological effect of seeing a tick mark beside something small that made the bigger project feel more feasible. Either way, it’s a trick I’ve turned to time and time again when I’m desperate to procrastinate, or dealing with overwhelm by things that would not overwhelm me if my brain were functioning a bit better.

It’s brilliant.

Share your personal tips and tricks for managing your To Do list in the comments, kittens. I’m back from holiday and already busy!

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