Scheme K: “De-re-contextualized tasks”
Published (gregorian) (ornellember)
I’ve said before that I write this series because I take pleasure in it. I am starting not to, in a way that’s more than just trepidation about a task on my to-do list.
I don’t like that it’s making me write from a place of authority, at a time where I don’t feel like I am, and as a result, doing that feels like playing a role. It’s making me sound like I have my shit together.
But here’s one thing where I kind of have my stuff together, but I am not an authority, rather, I’m a fanboy that followed the advice of someone who is an authority.
When you write your list of things to do, you remove the context of importance and other time, and add in the context of your actual daily life.
I bullet journal. I’ve been doing it since January of this year, and I love it. I didn’t come up with the method, a guy named Ryder Carroll did.
I watched this one video last December and just followed it. When I looked back a few weeks ago, I realized I’m not doing it exactly the same (not intentional), but like, I feel like that’s perfectly in line with the ethos. It seems like it’s mostly about making a system that’s built for you.
So tasks. In the past, how I approached to-do lists was kind of like a Kanban board: constantly adding to the tasks, and crossing them off, keeping the same list for several days, weeks or months.
While I didn’t read the bullet journal book, in the 3-minute video, something struck me: at one point, when looking back on the tasks that were not completed, the narrator decides whether to take them into the future, or simply mark them as “not going to do.” That was a revelation, because with this mindset, things like “productivity”, “procrastination”, etc, just become kind of irrelevant. You can decide to do a task, postpone it, or simply not to do it.
As mentioned, I have been doing cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD. We’re focusing on specific things each session, over the course of 12 weeks.
Last month, my therapist suggested we work on prioritizing tasks. She’d asked me to do something, and when I noted it down in my journal and she asked me to explain how I was prioritizing it, I think she didn’t like my explanation of “oh, I’m sort of not. I’ll figure it out as I go.”
She suggested a method called A,B,C where I would score the priority of tasks. The goal would then be for me to do the high-priority ones first, and then constantly reprioritize: if I ignored a B task for a while, and it got close to a deadline, it might become an A-task, etc. My counselor framed it as a way to stop myself from procrastinating, and to stop doing unimportant things in order to avoid doing important ones.
But since starting to bullet journal, I’m pretty sure I’ve “procrastinated” less and been more “productive”, even though I’ve taken my to-do list much less seriously.
I tried her method somewhat, and it skressed me out, but also, for the first time, I was like nah, what I’m currently doing is just straight up better – which is great, because it made me reflect on why!
How it works
Every day, I write things I want to do. They’re not weighed. My morning write-up can look like this:
~ 10:30 dentist appointment
~ 5:30 hangout with friend
. Send New York State tax payment (deadline October 26)
. Fix loose coat button
Throughout the day, I’ll write the things that happened and my impressions as notes, and cross off the tasks did. I often add more tasks too. Ultimately, it’s totally okay if I fixed the loose coat button and didn’t do the other two. At the end of the day, I can decide whether I will plan to do the remaining tasks in the future, or if they’re actually not important.
When I look at my tasks on a day-to-day basis, instead of as a whole extensive list, they are, strangely, way more contextualized. Maybe I didn’t send my tax payment, not because I am a terrible procrastinator who can’t do shit, but because I tried online and my username wasn’t working (which I’ll note down), so tomorrow I’m planning to call the phone number; or maybe I had a lot of other things going on day and needed to do more mindless and relaxing things; or maybe the hangout was great and I didn’t think I should drop everything to go home and make a tax payment.
And who cares? The only person reading the journal is me. The only person in the driver’s seat is me. There’s no gold stars (just potential legal trouble.)
I talk about my daily life, assess things, and decide what I plan to do next.
Here’s a few more reasons why this approach to tasks and journaling works better for me than any other ones I know.
- Guilt is a big barrier to doing stuff. You do something, then realize you have more important things to do, and it both invalidates what you did and makes it harder to do the “real, important” thing. Removing judgment, including judgment of value or importance, alleviates guilt a lot.
- Doing unimportant or easy stuff first can sometimes be awesome, because it makes me feel good, which gives me an energy boost to do a tedious thing next.
- Tasks are just one thing in my life, and having them in context of everything else (because I’m not a robot on an island) actually helps me prioritize them better.
- Having to write a task 6 days in a row, because I’ve postponed it 5 times, creates great momentum.
This is a couple of days late, nothing new. I’ve had a busy month. I really would like to write my next scheme earlier, but I don’t really have an idea lined up. Maybe something about how I plan my vacations / pack etc? It’s not super schemey but I’m kind of becoming a well-oiled machine when it comes to mini-vacations now.
Anyway, see you next time for the second-to-last scheme!