Dec 1, 2010

The Unguilted Crafter: fighting the urge to feel bad about old projects

Let's talk about abandoned project guilt, shall we? ;D

CJ asked me on a blog post in October if my UFOs (a.k.a. unfinished knitted objects) make me feel guilty. I answered, "They used to make me feel a bit guilty, though I tried to ignore it, because that wasn't really a useful kind of guilt." Then I explained: Now that I craft (including knitting) way more often, I've stopped feeling guilty about my UFOs, because I have reason to believe I'll get to them eventually.

But that doesn't mean unfinished stuff doesn't make me feel bad. What does weigh on me: The abandoned parts of my to-do list. That shadow part of the list that I keep ignoring (but that I refuse to take off the list) even though I rotate the active part. The things that have been sitting on the list so long that if they were knitting projects, they would be UFOs.

To-do list book.
Photo © Koalazymonkey

You know ... things like Like reorganizing the craft room, or cleaning the papers from the Debacle, or sending e-mails I promised to send but that have been languishing in the back of my head instead. Those things, I feel bad about. I wouldn't call it guilt, but they do make me feel antsy, pressured, and unhappy about my slackerdom. (Maybe that is what you would call guilt, but I usually think of guilt as a more distinct feeling, full of actively negative reproach. ;))

Anyway, the other day, when I wasn't looking for it, I stumbled across a way to stop feeling as bad about the Shadow To-Do List. I was doing an exercise to rebuild my belief in myself, and the instructions were basically:

Make a list of everything you've been putting off doing. Everything. Don't leave anything off. Now choose seven of those things — things you CAN realistically do within the span of one day, and they don't have to be difficult things, or even important things — and assign them, one a day, to the next week of your life. On those days, DO THEM. Don't let anything stop you. Don't go to sleep that night not having done your daily task. It doesn't matter what you have to do to accomplish them — do them. Not because you "should," because this isn't a traditional to-do list. Do them because you are rebuilding your ability to DO.

As I made my list, I started to feel oddly better about the entire thing. My list was five typed pages long, but that was okay. Because I saw things on the list that I knew I could do. I could do some of them in five minutes. I could have chosen seven super-easy things — e-mail so-and-so back, put the books by the bed back on the shelf, dust off the tea cabinet — and done them, and it still would have gotten seven things off my back, seven weights off my conscience. Seven. Whole. Things! In a single week. This from a list full of things that have languished without progress for an indeterminate amount of time.

Looking at the list actually made me want to get started right away. But I didn't — because part of the point of the exercise was to do what I said I would do, and if I said I would do something on a specific day, I would do it that day, not a day early or a day late.

And I did it. :D I did one thing a day for seven days, on the days I said I would do them. At the end of it, I felt so encouraged about my ability to do things that I wanted to do it again. I mean — imagine if I did one item from that five-page list every day. I could burn through the entire list (which has been accumulating for years, even!) done in just about eight months. And every one of those days would be a relief.

But in reality, the exercise worked better than I'd hoped. :D Because I did more than seven things. I did the seven things I said I would do on the days I said I'd do them ... and I also snuck in some extra things that I hadn't said I would do. So I actually got eleven things done from the list in a week. If I kept doing that I could finish the entire list in less than six months.

Less than six months to catching up with my life! :D

Of course, the extra things every week would be optional, because adding too much pressure to myself is just transferring the Shadow To-Do List over to the daily to-do list, and that won't work. I've tried it. Doing it the way that works and waiting eight months until five pages of monkeys are off my back is perfectly fine with me.

And okay — I admit that's not exactly realistic, either. Some of the things on the Shadow To-Do List are multi-day tasks. Like reorganizing the craft room — that's not something I can do in one day. So I have to break it down into things I know I can do in one day. (Holy crappity, it's that old "break up larger projects into smaller chunks" thing I never had to consciously do before my productivity got all gunked up. ;))

But isn't it odd? Making a list that's basically a litany of my failures somehow freed me to be productive. I guess it's kind of like when they say the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. And being able to see my put-off stuff in list form makes it look tackle-able. Then I can see that the list has an end. It is finite.

And because, while listing, I knew the next step was choosing easily-doable items to definitely do, I had no psychological urge to pressure myself into working on the list.

So, all around, making a list that highlights my slackerdom actually worked out to be a positive thing in the end, because I followed it up with definite and doable action.

It also not only gets stuff done so I can stop feeling bad about it, but it also helps me trust myself more. Because, like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, when I know that I can trust myself to eventually finish a project, I don't have to feel overly bad about putting that project on pause.

Craft or Bust has worked for me on that principle, and making this Shadow To-Do List has worked (so far) for the non-crafty stuff.

So, fellow crafters, maybe the list will work for you, too. Even if all you list is crafty stuff, and you promise to work just a little bit on one crafty project a day — or a week? Like in Craft or Bust? ;) — as long as you make absolutely sure you follow through, I bet it will help get those guilt-monkeys off your back, too. :D

Or maybe not! Everyone is different. And maybe you've tried something like this already? Maybe you've found your own way to refuse to feel bad about your unfinished projects and Shadow To-Do List?
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