Power through Procrastination: The Art of the To-Do List

Cute doodles of to-do list related items

Not too long after we were married, Larry and I decided to work together on a home improvement project. Our first task, I decided, was to create a to-do list of everything that we would need to get done. We worked individually on our lists and then came together to compare.

Mine turned out to be a long list of tasks; Larry’s said, basically, “Paint the House.”

I’ve teased him about that list for years, and he was kind enough to agree to let me share the story with you. (Thanks, honey!)

The problem with his list is that the task is too huge and too scary. Even if it were broken down by room, “paint the kitchen” is still a lot to bite off in one chunk and it requires a lot more time than it might be possible to carve out in the evenings and a few hours on a weekend.

When our tasks are too big, it’s terrifying to take the first step. So, we stay put.

We play on Pinterest.

We put together digital jigsaw puzzles.

We reorganize the closet — again.

To use the technical term, we procrastinate. And let me tell you, I put the “pro” in procrastinate!

I had a chat with Sage Grayson recently, and she had some advice that echoes what I tried to tell Larry all those years ago:

Break the task down into tiny steps so that there’s no reason not to take the next one.

The idea is to translate your bigger goal into manageable steps that are moving you in the right direction. Your long-term goal is broken down into monthly and then weekly goals, which are then further cut down into tasks that can be accomplished even if you only have a short period of time to work on them.

Say your goal is to “Lose 15 Pounds before Summer.” Your five-minute tasks may look like “chop veggies for snacks,” “plan meals for the week,” and “work gym time into the weekly schedule.”  The idea is to keep the huge goal in mind, but make your steps something actionable to get from Point A to Point R without feeling like you have to cover all that ground in one giant leap.

I often quote the famous Chinese proverb that says “the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” The key is to keep taking those steps, one by one, and you’ll find yourself consistently moving forward toward your goal and checking off the steps on your to-do list along the way.


2 thoughts on “Power through Procrastination: The Art of the To-Do List

  1. Kirsten Rosetti

    This is great advice! As much as I like having loads of things on my to-do list, I’m a huge procrastinator when I feel overwhelmed by a goal or project. Breaking things down into bite-size action steps and limiting the number of items that are even allowed on my daily task list really helps me take consistent action and stay motivated. I’ve also found it helpful to frequently remind myself of why I’m striving to reach a particular goal and why it’s so important to me.
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    1. Dawn Tolbert Post author

      You’re absolutely right, Kirsten. I have to keep reminding myself of the why. That’s such an important part of keeping momentum: remembering that there’s a bigger purpose than simply checking things off a list. Great reminder.


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