There is something satisfying about checking boxes off a To Do list—a little shot of dopamine for small accomplishments. And small accomplishments are the stepping stones to big change and fulfilling work. But sometimes To Do lists and check boxes are a trap.
Some years ago, when I decided to focus on worldbuilding for my nascent novel, I went all in. I found a framework that contained all the aspects of a world that could be built—from cosmos to fabric choices. Then I proceeded to research and design every part of the world.
When I looked up from my assigned tasks, having checked off the boxes for every aspect of my world, two years had gone by.
I can give you reasons it took so long, but I won’t make excuses. I hope to never spend that much time on worldbuilding again. Still, I make no promises. And I forgive myself the time spent. This is how I learn.
On the other hand, one of the things I see now when looking back on those two years, is that much of the work I did is no longer useful. Some of the work has been iterated into new forms, which means it served as a valuable foundation, but much of the the work is simply outside the scope of my story—irrelevant.
Spending two years on worldbuilding was incredibly inefficient. The fact that I actually did that—two years? really?—reminds me to periodically take a step back. I try to evaluate what I’m doing, clarify my goals, and streamline my process on a regular basis. This is one of the big reasons I bullet journal. It sets up a daily practice of assessing what I choose to do, which helps me catch wrong turns and wild goose chases much sooner.
It can still be hard for me to abandon a goal partway through a To Do list, or drop a project that I’ve invested time in. And it can be hardest when the tasks are easy. If I just do this little thing, I can check off that box. What’s the harm in finishing the easy things? (Probably less time for the hard things, which seem to be the important/fulfilling/valuable tasks, annoyingly enough.)
I’ve been feeling a certain uneasiness lately about the balance of tasks I’m filling my time with. Here are some of the things I’m not always sure about:
- entering receipts into my accounting software, rather than downloading the information
- typing up book notes, often with long quotes, for every book I read
- writing a blog post (almost) every week
- setting up new bullet journal spreads every month
- cooking dinner most nights (though I’ve cut down a little)
Are these good uses of my time?
I would love to hear what you think. Do you worry about the efficiency of your tasks? How do you decide if what you’re spending your time on is worthwhile?