Some days – most days – I charge around like a frantic hen. I’m so busy acting on impulse, reacting to events and other people’s agendas that I get distracted from my own life and the stuff I really need to do. My to-do list is pretty much untouched by bedtime. On days like this, I feel a failure because I’ve allowed myself to be pulled away from what’s important. That’s when I pull this idea out of my box of tricks. It won’t eliminate problems overnight but it does help you restore mental discipline and gain perspective.
Step 1: Make a promise to yourself that you will achieve something tomorrow. This should be an easy promise – it’s about building mental discipline, not achieving your life goal. Make it restful: read a chapter of a favourite novel in your lunch hour. Make it useful: phone the one person you’ve been meaning to call for a week. Make it worthy: eat more fruit.
Step 2: Do this every evening for a week. By now you’ll be feeling you are a person who follows through on your promises.
Step 3: Now we raise the bar. This is the list of stuff that you really want to sort out but never seem to have the time because you’re firefighting. It could be restructuring your office systems or applying for a new job. Break your goal into small, manageable steps and promise that you’ll do one of these steps every day. By this time, ensuring that you follow through on your promises to yourself should be second nature and you’ll tackle even the scary stuff without procrastination. But if it’s not easy, forget the step 3 for a while and go back to step 1.
“Where no plan is laid where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign,” wrote Victor Hugo.
To-do lists that never get done engender a sense of permanent failure and drag down your spirit. Making promises to yourself that you actually keep is a terrific antidote.
Elisabeth Wilson is a practising psychotherapist and author. Her latest book is Slow Down: Enjoy life and live longer (Infinite ideas, £18.99)