Since grade school, our brain has been trained that we do what is on the calendar whether we feel like it or not. We show up for English class at 9:00 or baseball practice at 6pm even if we’d rather be doing something else. At work, we attend meetings every day even though we may not feel motivated to do so but they’re on the calendar, so we go.
It helps to channel that habit and use it to complete projects by scheduling them onto your calendar. I used to have a daily to-do list with two columns: appointments and tasks. I would always keep my scheduled commitments, but it was easier to fudge on the task column and not get to something that I didn’t feel like doing. When I switched tactics and started putting the most important to-do items on my calendar as well, I found myself completing more – because I started. I still didn’t feel like doing the tasks, but just as with meetings, motivation was not a consideration. At the appointed time, you just begin what is on the calendar without questioning it.
The other thing task-scheduling helps accomplish is that it becomes a visual reminder of how much you have to do. If there are appointment-free blank gaps in a day, your brain can easily read that as “free time” and fill it with other non-productive activities. Blocking out one hour to give a presentation is quite different than filling in the other four hours to prepare for it. A task-laden calendar helps provide an accurate gauge of whether or not you have the capacity to take on more.
Just as with scheduled appointments, I take advantage of my autonomy and give myself the flexibility to move things around, but rearranging the commitments is different than managing them all on a separate to-do list. You’ve got decades of practice in using appointments as your guide. Use that ingrained habit to help you do more than get to the next meeting.