November 2014


Stopping Those "Rolling Items"


An Additional To-do List Technique

Note: Last month I wrote about scheduling to-do list items to conquer procrastination.  Here’s an additional step to making to-do lists work even more effectively.

Is your to-do list full of “rolling items”?  You know – those things that keep traveling from one to-do list to the next one because you keep avoiding them.  You are not alone.  I’ve heard about it many times, from many people, and it’s a problem I can be guilty of myself.

In addition to scheduling many of the items as suggested last month, I use a second to-do list technique that has put an end to my rolling item issue.  I start by writing a list on a piece of paper that is about 3 by 5 inches in size. The list is comprised of both items from the schedule plus those that come up in the moment.  If my writing is small enough, I can fit 15-20 items on the list.  Some are 5 minute items, some will take longer to do.

When there’s no more room on the paper, I start another list on a new piece of paper.  I’ve made a commitment to myself not to start doing the items on the next list until every single item on the current list is done and crossed off.  No roll-overs allowed!  Sometimes if there a task that I don't want to do, I’ll put it on the next list instead of the current one, even if there is room on the current list.  By writing it down, I’ve committed to myself to getting it done, but I also have some time to work up the nerve to face it.

There are only two exceptions to my “finish the current list first” rule:

  • If an item on the next list is time-sensitive, I do it even if my current list is not completely done. 

  • If an item on the current list is completed as far as I can do it (for example if I’m awaiting information or a reply from someone else), I’ll cross it off and put it on the next list.  That way it doesn’t slip through the cracks –  it stays on my radar until it’s completed, even if that means that it does roll from list to list.  As long as I’m being honest with myself, that circumstances really are preventing me from going any further on it at this time, I’m confident that it will get done in a timely fashion.  Maybe I’ll make a list item to remind the person who is the bottleneck to please get back to me.

Approaching my to-do list in this way has really helped with my own procrastination issues – and yes I do have them!  I know that once something is on a list, it will absolutely get done.  Here’s an example of how this new technique recently helped me get something done that I was really avoiding:

I’ve made the decision to let my husband take Windows off of my laptop and replace it with a Linux-based operating system, which is what I use on my desktop computer.  I don’t use the laptop a lot, so there isn’t much important data on it, but there was some that wanted to save on a thumb drive before he wiped the hard disk.  I dreaded finding and saving everything, so I put “20 minutes laptop data” on my current list.  Of course, I finished everything else on that list first, and had items on a new list that I wanted to get to, but I hadn’t done the 20 minutes of saving the data.  Keeping my commitment to myself – not to start the new list until the old one was done – forced me to get that onerous 20 minutes done.  When I started, I didn’t know if 20 minutes would be enough, and if it wasn’t, I was going to add “20 minutes laptop data” to the next list, and the next, until I was finished, each time doing another 20 minutes.  Note this wouldn’t be a rolling item that was traveling from list to list and never getting addressed.  I would be doing 20 minutes each time, and making good progress.  In the end, it only took me two 20-minutes sessions to complete the job.

One note: I don’t put a huge project on the list that is overwhelming it its scope.  For example, I wouldn’t list, “Clean out the attic.”  Instead, I’d write, “Spend 1 hour on the attic” or however much time I was willing to do in a particular day.  Or, if the project can be broken down into steps, I would only write the next one or two steps on the list, for example, “Make a list of materials needed for project,” then “Gather all the materials for the project.”

Do you need some support for putting this or another routine in place?  I can help you create a sustainable plan, get started off on the right foot and, and help you explore obstacles that can keep you stuck.  Contact me if you would like to discuss individual coaching.

Linda King, ACC, AACC
Life Coach/ADD Coach/Speaker

Linda King, ACC, AACC, is a trained and certified Life Coach and ADHD Coach. She works with her clients in the area of logistics — getting their life, space, and time under control.   She does this by helping them with planning, organization and time management.  Linda is a member of the International Coach Federation.


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