Why is it Still on Your To-do List?


What have you been meaning to do, but never quite get to? What still lingers on your to-do list at the end of the day? What’s getting pushed off until tomorrow and then next week. Eventually it’s been months and the thing is still not done.

When we repeatedly procrastinate on something we can be quick to call ourselves lazy or irresponsible. We might cast the blame on the busyness of life, promising we’ll get to it once things finally settle down.

The truth might not be that we’re too lazy or too busy. Often there are other reasons we avoid doing something if we’re willing to take a look.

Think about you’ve been putting off until later and try asking these questions:

How would it feel to do the thing right now?

Maybe it would feel amazing to get it done and crossed off your list. Great. Get it done.

If not, however, what objections are coming up? These are clues as to why it’s still on your list. Are the objections valid? If so, what will be necessary to move past them? If they’re excuses, what is really getting in the way?

What is the benefit of not doing the thing?

At first glance this question may seem silly. It would be a good thing to do, right? Isn’t that why it’s on your to do list in the first place?

Your avoidance, however, might be a part of you trying to protect you in some way. If you don’t apply for the job you can’t be rejected. If you don’t make the appointment you won’t hear the diagnosis. If you don’t try something new you don’t have to feel like a beginner.

That protective part may be keeping you safe from those consequences, but it’s also preventing you from having what you want and need. If you avoid applying for the job, you won’t be rejected, but you still won’t have the job. Putting off the appointment doesn’t make the diagnosis any less real. Never trying anything new protects you from feeling like a beginner, but it also keeps you from growing.

Sometimes what we avoid isn’t about the thing itself at all. Exploring the benefits of not doing it can give us clues about what’s really getting in the way.

Why is it on your list in the first place?

There are so many demands on our time these days. There are the things we want to do. The things we think we should do. The things other people ask us to do. The things we think other people think we should do.

What were your reasons for deciding to do the thing in the first place? What happens if you think of it as something you choose to do instead of something you have to do ?

What would be the consequences of just taking it off your list?

We tend to feel like we have to follow through once we decide to do something. If we’re continually procrastinating, however, it’s worth questioning whether it’s really the thing to do.

Another way of asking whether you still want to do the thing you’ve said you’d do is to ask if there’s anything you’d rather do instead. We can get so caught up in the plan we made that we stop looking at the other possibilities.

What would be the result of following through?

Think through both the best and worst case scenarios. Looking at the best possible results of following through can remind you why you’re choosing to do this thing in the first place and may help you feel more excited to actually do it.

When something stays on our to do list for days or weeks or months, it’s rarely about not having enough time. Not really. Getting clear about the worst case scenario often shows us the risk isn’t actually as bad as we thought.

Is this an indication of a bigger area of stuckness?

Often our resistance to do the thing isn’t really about the thing itself. When I put off sending a text to invite a friend for coffee, my avoidance isn’t really about sending the text. That part is easy. But it does bring up issues like my conflicting needs for connection and solitude and my fears around rejection, being annoying, and being unlovable.

Honestly, for me, looking closely at the little things I’m avoiding often brings me up against my deepest fears about my own identity and worth. Sometimes the thing is just the thing, but sometimes it’s a sign of something deeper. The good news is, once we know what’s going on under the surface we can begin to deal with it.

What are you going to do?

At this point you have a much clearer idea of why the thing lingers on your to-do list. Now it’s time to decide what you’re going to do.

While it may not seem like a big deal, the things we leave undone actually take up a lot of energy and willpower. We’re continually assessing whether we’re going to follow through now or keep putting it off. Not to mention, we start thinking unkind things about ourselves when we repeatedly don’t do the thing we say we’re going to do.

If you’ve decided you don’t want to do the thing right now, take it off your list and let it go. If, however, you’ve decided it’s something you still want to do, schedule when you will do it. Write it on your calendar. Tell someone your plan. Do what you need to do to follow through. The sooner the better. Often avoiding something is actually more uncomfortable than doing it.

I’d love to hear…what areas have you been feeling a little stuck? What have you learned about the reasons behind that stuckness? Where could you use accountability around following through? Did you discover anything holding you back that surprised you?