This post is the fifth in a series that accompanies each week in my book, Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks. Week 5 begins on page 127 in the print edition.

You’re now working on Time and Task Management, with just two weeks to go in this 7-week program.

pexels-photo-27893If you’re like most people, you live a busy life, and it can be hard to find time for everything. If your life wasn’t busy enough, this program can require a serious investment of your time (not to mention a lot of hard work). You might be wondering how you’re supposed to fit everything in: scheduling engaging tasks, monitoring and challenging your thoughts, and now working on time management.

It might be helpful if we “zoom out” at this point and start to think about how these pieces can fit together. (Week 7 will be devoted to integrating everything you’ve worked on.)

If there is one common thread in each of these elements, it’s your time. As I write in Week 5, time management is really about deciding how best to use the limited time we have—whether it’s in an hour, a day, or a lifetime.

Rather than thinking of this week as yet another task for the To Do list, consider framing it as a tool to organize all the other work you’re doing. Thus time and task management are an integral part of planning rewarding activities, as well as setting aside time to examine your thoughts.

In a similar way, as I note in the book, the tools you’ve been working on from Week 2 (Getting Back to Life) all apply here in Week 5. For example, no matter what the activity is, it helps immensely to plan a specific time to complete it (if at all possible).

You can also notice what thoughts come up throughout your activity scheduling and time management. For example, do you have hopeless thoughts like, “I’ll never get this all done”? You can address thoughts related to scheduling with the techniques from last week (Breaking Negative Thought Patterns).

You may also start to notice that your behavior has a direct effect on some of your thoughts. For example, with a thought like “I’ll never get this all done,” planning and systematically completing your tasks directly contradicts that belief.

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CBT model of relationships among feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. From Retrain Your Brain, p. 20.

As much as you can, aim to find simplicity in this work. It truly is all connected. That’s part of why I like the CBT model of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as it reminds us of the interconnections among these elements.

While it’s helpful to break things down in CBT, we can remind ourselves that all this work is for one thing—allowing us to enjoy and experience this life. If we’re able to do that, what else is there?

Here’s a spoiler alert: In Week 7 you’ll take stock of your journey through this program and will pull together your key takeaways. You might consider starting this week to jot some of them in the Notes section in the back, if you haven’t already. That way you’ll have an easier time remembering what stood out to you.

Breaking the Avoidance Habit

Much of the challenge for this week is to break through our tendency to avoid tasks, either because they seem unpleasant or we don’t have the motivation to do them, or both. We often downplay the cost of avoiding, which generally gives us neither the satisfaction of finishing something nor a sense of ease while we put it off. Thus it can be hard to understand procrastination’s persistence, given how unfulfilling it is.

The new material for this week is aimed exactly at that habit of avoidance, which can be as powerfully self-perpetuating as it is personally unrewarding. For example, if I have a dirty kitchen to clean and am feeling overwhelmed, every time I think about it I’m likely to feel a wave of dread as I imagine how difficult it will be. By choosing to keep watching TV (or whatever I’m doing instead of the dishes), I’ll probably feel a sense of relief from not having to tackle something I view as unpleasant. At the same time, I’ll keep remembering I still have to clean the kitchen and will keep re-experiencing that negative feeling for as long as I put it off.

If I’m in the habit of putting things off, I’ll have experienced AVOID RELIEF thousands of times. As a result, I’ll be more likely to avoid in the future when given the opportunity.

By tackling our tasks now, we not only stop reinforcing avoidance but also strengthen the pathway from TASK COMPLETIONSATISFACTION. Therefore in the future we’ll be more likely to complete our tasks.

This week notice how you feel when you finish a task versus when you’re avoiding it. We’re often bad at predicting what’s going to make us happy, and can underestimate how satisfying it will feel to have completed something.

Have a great week. All the best as you continue this work.

I’ll post the next installment on December 5, 2016. 

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