Guest Post: Anxiety Ghosts & Ghost-busting Systems

Guest Post: Anxiety Ghosts & Ghost-busting Systems

I recently 9received this email from a good friend of mine. As a fellow entrepreneur, she understand the value of sharing her system with a trusted adviser in order to strengthen it. I wanted to share her thoughts with you.

Author: Shelagh Huston
Trying to remember and track a lot of small, get-it-together tasks makes me anxious. The list of actual known jobs can be overwhelming, but what really stresses me is the diaphanous stuff that hangs around the edges, not quite visible or identifiable. These unnamed ought-to’s make me feel haunted. They’re a ghostly and faintly threatening presence that I’m afraid to ignore in case something Bad happens.

And I realized my obsessive list-making is really ghost-busting. I’m trying to corral the ectoplasm into the Faraday cage of the To-Do-List. But you can never say, aha, I got ’em all, because how can you ever know there’s not one more invisible ghost in the room?

You can’t. Since the goal of busting all the ghosts is unreachable, I need another way to prevent the anxious feeling of being haunted.

I’ve tended to keep reviewing facts and making repeated decisions, and I’m prone to over-designing complicated ways to track things, that make me feel overwhelmed. I need a system that keeps the facts in one place and as far as possible automates the decision-making. A workable system would reduce my anxiety.

So, I ask myself – what would my friend Jennifer Kennett, from Abundant Business Coaching, my go-to expert on systems, advise me to do?

She would tell me (as she has before) that I need to not just find a way to get things done, but a way to NOT do too many of the small things that can eat up the time I need to do the Big Things.

So my latest plan is this, which I’ll check with Jennifer:

I’ve already set up the ‘best’ times of my day (mornings, for me) to do the Big Things, and not let the small stuff into that time. This is working for me. But there’s still the ‘small stuff’ that has to get done. So I’m planning to set up daily work periods to deal with this. I divided my list into the same number of chunks as I have working days. Then, following the old traditional “Monday – laundry” approach, I’ve put all the stuff from my endless small-stuff to-do list, along with the items from a couple of small projects, into these chunks. My plan is to do Chunk A items on Monday afternoon, Chunk B items on Tuesday afternoon, etc. The key is to STOP doing anything from the day’s list at the end of the planned time. If it’s not done by 4:30 pm Monday, it can’t be touched until next Monday.16

This helps with the endless I’m-not-getting-it-done anxiety, as I can firmly tell myself – you’re not SUPPOSED to do Item X now, in fact you’re not ALLOWED to do it until
next Monday or whatever. And it helps with the ghost-busting anxiety, as whenever an item comes into mind, I can add it to the Chunk-list it belongs to. (For me, a senior with short-term memory issues, I have to do this the very second I think of it, or it vanishes – which is why I’ve migrated my Chunk-lists to my phone, as separate lists on my Reminders app.)

This system doesn’t fix everything: obviously, my husband would not be happy if I left him waiting to be picked up from the doctor’s office because, hey, I didn’t get to it this week – I’ll get you next Wednesday. But if my chunks are well-thought out to contain almost all the smaller stuff, I can at least keep the overall list from becoming gigantic and losing items on it. And I can prioritize at the beginning of each afternoon to do the most important items from that particular list, so I don’t have to repeatedly decide which out of all these endless to-do’s is the most vital right now.

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