How to End Anxiety and Frustration From All the Stuff You’re Not Getting Done

stress, anxiety, stuff to doFeeling stress over all the stuff you’re not getting done these days? David Allen provides a brilliant solution in Getting Things Done

If you’re like most people, you’ve got some storage area at home—maybe a garage that you told yourself a while back (maybe even six years ago!) you ought to clean and organize. If so, there’s a part of you that likely thinks you should’ve been cleaning your garage 24 hours a day for the past 6 year!

Have you heard that little voice inside your own mental committee every time you walk by your garage? “Why are we walking by the garage?! Aren’t we supposed to be cleaning it!?”

For you maybe it’s not the garage, but it’s some other project, visiting an aunt, or just the ¾ of your to-do list you don’t get to each day.

The reason you feel stress and frustration in these situations is because somewhere along the way you made an agreement with yourself to do these things. You may not remember it, but you’re still holding yourself accountable for them.

What’s the solution?

Two choices usually come to mind.

1) Give up. Lower your standard about your garage. Decide you’re not going to do that project, visit your aunt, ort the ¾ of your list you didn’t get to. You know it’s not ideal, but at least it’s not hanging over your head anymore. Or,

2) Keep your agreement. Clean the garage now. Start that project, drive over to your aunt’s house… Hmmm, there’s not much you can do with the other ¾ of your to-do list, because if you do those things now, you’ll have to neglect other items on the list.

But there is a third option that’s not quite as obvious.

Renegotiate with yourself

Schedule “clean the garage” on your calendar or put it on your “someday/maybe” list. Do the same for that project and the aunt you want to visit. Because you’re no longer holding yourself accountable for doing those things now, your internal voice will let up on you. David writes:

I’m quite sincere about this. It seems there’s a part of our psyche that doesn’t know the difference between an agreement about cleaning the garage 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.

Daily To-Do List

David says, with the Getting Things Done method, there’s no need for daily to-do lists. But, this is where David and I disagree…

  • If I have a list of 50 things on my “next actions” list, I feel like I should be doing all of them today. That creates stress, since I know I can’t possibly do them all and I’m doomed to fail.
  • If I get to the end of my day and I’ve done 12 of the 50, I get frustrated because it looks like I barely made any progress.

However, if I take 10 things from my action list that I need to get done today and another 5 things I’d like to get done today, and I put them on my daily to-do list, I have effectively renegotiated with myself. The result is…

  • I look at my list of 15 things and think, “OK, that’s doable!”
  • If I get to the end of the day and I’ve done 12 of them, I’m excited because I did all the things I needed to and a couple of the things I was hoping to get to. Woohoo!

Doesn’t that sound like a better alternative?

What agreements have you unknowingly made with yourself that are causing you anxiety and frustration?

Do you think renegotiating with yourself could help you overcome that?

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