Eva Bradley: Long to-do list has its upside

By Eva Bradley

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Research backs up the theory busy people are more productive.
Research backs up the theory busy people are more productive.

A smarter person than me once famously said that, if you want something done, ask a busy person.

As I sit at my computer several hours past deadline with a to-do list that uncharacteristically only contains one word ("column"), I can relate.

Normally, amid the cut-and-thrust of a busy wedding photography season, my to-do list is so long it resembles a digital adaptation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Getting through it requires energy, efficiency, good planning and definitely no browsing the Facebook feed.

But with the last wedding just behind me, the adrenalin that has propelled me through the last eight months has evaporated.

In the first and only time I'm likely to compare myself to a long-distance runner, I feel like I have tapped into my final reserves to push me over the finish line, arms held high in triumph, and now the body and mind has atrophied ...

job done.

I can understand the theory that people who retire and suddenly do very little with their lives deteriorate quickly and sometimes even die. Today, I've moved so slowly I can imagine extrapolating the feeling out to the point where even drawing breath could become one hassle too many.

And while it might seem deliciously indulgent and well-earned to go to bed at midday for a few hours to read a book, eat peanut butter toast and take a nap, I feel absolutely dreadful for it.

My brain feels dulled, my body sluggish and small tasks suddenly seem monumental.

While some of this feeling could be attributed to good old-fashioned burnout or perhaps a sense of entitlement to put my feet up after a job well done, my somnolence didn't feel voluntary or even within my power.

I was slow and sleepy and seemed unable to control my procrastination.

In a clear demonstration of this, I found myself looking into the science of why busy people get more done.

While this didn't expedite the completion of my tiny to-do list, it did prove fascinating.

According to Columbia University research, pace, productivity and a sense of achievement are intimately related.

Busy people have more deadlines, and fret less when some of them are missed or approaching fast, simply because they have more balls in the air requiring their attention.

If some get dropped, others remain high and the feeling of winning the productivity war generates more energy to tackle more tasks.

Apparently, giving a task your full attention is not always the best way to get it done.

And, even if you do have one monumental job to do, breaking it down into a longer list of smaller parts will make you feel busier and thus more likely get you over the line faster.

Of course, there is no doubt far more compelling research to suggest that constant busyness builds stress, which generates cortisone and will have you in the grave earlier than putting your slippers on aged 65 and not taking them off.

Like most things in life, the answer lies in getting the balance right.

I'm not sure going absolutely nuts for three-quarters of the year and then hibernating for one-quarter is the healthiest way to achieve this, but, like many people in seasonal occupations, it's the only option I have.

So now with that one final job on the list done, it's back to the bed and book - maybe not entirely guilt-free but free at least of any lists, which is good enough for me.

- Eva Bradley is a photographer and columnist.

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