A few items on my personal to-do list had lingered, untouched, for more than a month.
I just deleted them.
Those tasks did nothing but make me feel bad about what I had yet to start doing. They were guilt tasks. Maybe, now that they’re gone, I’ll be able to work on them again.
You don’t need guilt from your to-do list. You need encouragement. That encouragement often comes from the checked off items. That’s why I typically write things I’ve already finished on my list, just so I can check them off. I recently discovered doing that isn’t odd.
So what are some of the signs of a guilt task? A guilt task is any task that:
- has stayed on your to-do list for more than a week with no action
- you’ve kept updating the due date without any progress toward completion
- obviously doesn’t need to be completed (if it did it would be done)
- is not a priority (although it’s taking up mental priority)
- you have a mental block towards that task that’s kept you from starting
Rewarding tasks get done, because you see the payoff, feel the positive feedback that accompanies checking the item off the list. Guilt tasks offer very little in terms of reward, even when completed. Finishing a guilt task is seldom a relief. If anything, checking it off the list will just make you feel guilty about how long it took you to get started. They only succeed in making you feel bad about the things you’re not doing.
But guess what…there’s tons of stuff you’re not doing now, you won’t do soon, and you may never do. Feeling bad about all the things you’re not doing doesn’t help you get any closer to finishing the tasks that actually matter to you. Feeling bad about guilt tasks doesn’t help you do the real tasks.
So pull up your to-do list, and delete (or, if you’re not ready for that, archive) everything from your list that is bringing you down or that you will not start in the next week.