A colleague of mine and I were working together toward some pretty serious deadlines. At one point, when I looked like I was headed for self-combustion, she casually said, “Oh, that’s for ‘future Linda’s list.
I got it immediately.
I sometimes take the pressure off of today’s to do list by putting things on tomorrow’s to do list. I call this the “wastebasket of tomorrow” technique, and sometimes it the wisest possible thing to do. [Especially if the relaxation of the pace really does help me get those things done the next day.]
My colleague said her mother used to call this the “Scarlett O’Hara” technique, coping with the disasters of today with “After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Coping through time shifting seems akin to skillful distraction – when overwhelmed with the overwhelm of the moment, it can be quite skillful to go for a walk, play with the dog, cook a meal or make a cup of tea. A few minutes respite and clearing of the mind before diving into the current difficulty again.
But I do think we need to practice wise discernment to know when this time-shifting is a skillful way to relieve pressure and restore our equilibrium for the tasks at hand, and when the practice could turn into procrastination, the putting off and putting off that leads to never done.
Just as we need to know when skillful distraction really does relieve the pressure and when it’s escape that leads to never resolved.
Wise discernment is a capacity of good judgment cultivated over time from lots and lots of experimentation and experience, and with a sincere commitment to reduce the personal bull-shitting.
I find these techniques helpful to me in leaning toward wise discernment and skill time-shifting:
1. Identify the most urgent top priority tasks and do those right now. The relief opens up a lot of energy to get the next tasks done.
2. Identify any task that, if I got it done, would help me ramp up the momentum to do the most important tasks. Giving myself a sense of success helps me manage my anxiety about the larger tasks.
3. Remember that every task accomplished is one more step on my current learning curve; it’s all learning, and at the meta-level that means I’m growing and developing.
4. See myself doing every single task on the list, how I would do it, and then when, even if tomorrow.
5. Avoid wasting any energy whatsoever in criticizing myself for not getting all the tasks done; save the energy for getting the tasks done the next day.
6. Build in simple rewards to getting any of the tasks done…that walk around the park or the good meal.
7. And take in the good that any wise effort, however imperfect, is part of strengthening my resilience and well-being.