Skip to content

Add predictable distractions to your To Do list

McKinley Valentine — 3 min read
Add predictable distractions to your To Do list
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

My city, Melbourne, is currently under strict lockdown and an 8pm - 5am curfew, for reasons that I can’t name or this newsletter will be sent to your spam folder.

There’s a press conference about the situation every day at 11am, but occasionally the report is: “The premier [state leader] will giving a press conference at 2pm tomorrow.” That means something’s changed - the number of cases has gone up by a lot, or down by a lot, new restrictions, new income support measures, new fines, something big.

Now what I could do, is google the news an hour after the press conference and get a summary. A 2-minute task. But what I will actually do, is log on to ABC News at 1:55, hit refresh a bunch of times, speculate on the announcement in my group chat, wait for the presser to actually start (they always start late), check twitter to see if it actually has started and somehow ABC News isn’t reporting it, and so on.  Then after the announcement, discuss it and worry about it for another 45 minutes. An hour-long task.

So that goes on my To Do list, which I draw up at the start of the day. That way I’m planning for and expecting the interruption in my day, and I don’t beat myself up for caring about something that of course I care about. I don’t wonder why I didn’t get anything done in that hour, because I did - I watched and processed the press conference, which I already knew I was going to do today. And now I can cross it off.

I talked about it last issue, but so much of getting better at managing my life has involved accepting the way my brain actually works rather than planning for a McKinley who doesn’t get distracted by scary, life-impacting press conferences.

The big things to factor into your schedule are:

  • predictable distractions
  • emotional fragility.

I’ll give some more examples:

You’ve scheduled in 30 minutes to call your grandma, who has dementia. Do you usually feel 100% fine after that phone call, or do you feel shaken up and worried and sad? If the latter, you probably need 30 minutes for the call + 30 minutes to calm down.

(Note that I don’t necessarily mean ‘schedule’ as literally as it sounds. It’s more about being aware of how much is on your plate on any one day.)

Or maybe it’s just calling to make a dentist appointment because speaking to anyone on the phone stresses you out.

Or: you’re expecting a package to arrive. Are you just going to take it inside and go back to work? Or will you want to open it and try it on / build it / whatever immediately? If you know you can’t just leave an unopened package sitting there till the end of the work day, factor in the whole time.

I’m writing fantasy short stories at the moment, so I have ‘submit Story to Strange Horizons Magazine’ on my To Do list at the end of the week. If I already have the story and cover letter all ready, that’s a 5-minute task. But in reality, I’m going to proofread it again, for the hundredth time, hover over the ‘submit’ button, panic a little, re-read the submission guidelines, grit my teeth and hit the button, convince myself I’ve made a dreadful mistake, make my husband tell me I didn’t make a dreadful mistake, re-read the story again even though it’s too late to change it, feel deep abiding shame that I had the temerity to submit it, and generally feel wretched and hyped and weird for the next ??? minutes. That takes time! Don’t pretend it doesn’t!

This goes for good news as well, if good news makes you excited and hyped up and want to tell someone about it and not able to focus on other tasks for a while after you get it.

If you have surgery booked, you allow time in your schedule for the surgery itself, and for the recovery period as well. It’s the same with any event likely to knock your emotions about, even if it’s only for half an hour, and even if you feel like it “shouldn’t” take any time.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #102 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceBe More Functional


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.