Recently, I was in the middle of mindlessly scrolling on TikTok, and in between the videos of summer fashion finds and a dog being rescued after seven months in a shelter (the algorithm knows my love of secondhand puppy-shopping videos), there was a video about space exploration. My interests are teasingly diverse…
You see, in 1997 there was a robot on Mars called Pathfinder.
Back in the 1990s, you couldn’t control a robot on Mars remotely from Earth, so they had to send one with general commands and then let the robot decide what to do next and trust the robot to do its own thing. The robot had to manage its own tasks, such as dropping off tools, taking pictures, gathering data, etc.
But this little robot wasn’t doing anything. It was just, well, kind of sitting there. It wasn’t accomplishing anything.
Why? Because its scheduling algorithms were overwhelmed. For those who don’t speak fluent computer, an algorithm is a set of instructions, such as a recipe. Sometimes computers have so many instructions that they get confused and can’t decide what to do first. It’s like a little kid having too many toys to play with and not enough time to play with them all.
In essence, this little computer was procrastinating.
It would start to make progress on a task, and then it would decide another task was actually more important. So, it would start on the next task, not finishing the first one.
This is a cycle that computer scientists call thrashing. Thrashing is the state of being where a computer uses 100% of its power to decide what task to do next, instead of using that power to actually work on a task.
It’s not that it’s not doing anything — it’s using its full strength but not accomplishing anything.
I’ve never identified so deeply with a robot in my life.
I am the reigning queen of starting on a project and then, seeing something else that is equally important (and, let’s face it, equally ignored), starting on that, until the next super-important-but-also-ignored task catches my eye.
And that is why I can drop into bed at 7:30 at night, exhausted, but also recognizing that nothing officially got checked off my list that day. (Just as I was writing that last sentence, I remembered that I needed to check in with a client, but am forcing myself to keep writing because… irony…)
I continue to have to train myself to stay on the project (or problem) in front of me, instead of borrowing stress from yesterday or tomorrow. There is enough to handle today.
I realize sometimes that I’m looking for a distraction. When a problem becomes challenging, it’s easy to want to move on to something that will be less difficult, less painful, less intense, less boring.
That hustle comes from the desire to get everything done because I don’t want to let anyone, especially God, down. But God’s Word reminds us that He’s not about the hustle. In fact, the ancient wisdom contained in Matthew 6:34 sounds like what a lot of therapists and productivity experts would say today: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
When I start to get overwhelmed, I try to put a couple of practices into motion:
- A daily to-do list. Every day, I start a list of things that need to be done. I also underline the things that must be done today, such as car registration and emailing Becky. I then assign other items that are not a “today” item to other days of the week. Everything has to be done, but not everything has to be done right now.
- Assign the time. I’ve realized I can’t stop at a list. I actually need to put that list on my calendar so that I have assigned the time to work on my items. Otherwise, I make a list of twenty things when I only have time to do four and get worried that I’m not working on the right things. By writing them down and adding them to my calendar, I can ensure that important tasks get done, but allow my brain to stop cycling on those tasks.
- Create a routine. I have a list of morning routines and evening routines that I do every day. Because there is no decision-making (these five things get done every morning and these five things get done every evening), it takes a lot of the stress out of the decisions and I don’t procrastinate. It’s just what I do, and it makes my life go so much more smoothly.
So much of worry comes from either living in the past or living in the future. When we concentrate on the present, we’re able to better recognize all the ways God has equipped us for the moment and experience the abundance He has for us.
Need extra encouragement when it comes to getting your daily list done? Join Kathi and her team over in their Facebook group, the Clutter Free Academy.