Originally published on 11 Jan 2007 as “Getting Rid of Tasks”.
Earlier this week, I ran across a reference to the article by Dave Pollard on “Getting Things Done (GTD): Just Say No to Urgent Unimportant Tasks”. In this article, he looks at Covey’s four quadrants, and discusses how he moved from doing urgent but unimportant tasks into doing tasks that forward his goals (important).
I resonated with this article, because I realized late in 2006 that my system was filling up with noise – things that really didn’t matter in the long run, but needed to be done. These are the routine things like housework, exercise, etc. These things invaded my to-do list, overwhelmed me, and left items that I wanted to accomplish stranded on the lists for months at a time.
Can’t See the Garden When It’s Full of Weeds
I have a real problem with perceived overload. When I feel like there is too much to do, I don’t do anything, important or not. Then I do something I’m very good at — I make myself feel guilty for not doing anything.
One day I decided that enough was enough. I wasn’t going to guilt-trip myself anymore, and I was going to make it so I was working on things that were important. Both of these goals need me to clear away the underbrush so I can see the rest of the garden.
Removing the Daily Repeatables from My To Do List
The first thing I did was to shift the daily, if-I-don’t-do-it-today-it-will-still-be-there-tomorrow stuff into a checklist. These things include my routine tasks, such as laundry, setting up the robot vacuum, taking vitamins, etc.
Why write these things down at all? Why not just remember them? Because when I have these items written down, I don’t have to put the brain energy into remembering them. My memory isn’t what it used to be, and my daily tasks change from day to day. I prefer to put my energy into more important things.
Setting Limits on My Lists
Next I had to limit what I was working on at any given moment. I love starting things, and I don’t finish them. I’m not sure why this is, because I love the exhilaration of finishing a project. In early December 2006, my project lists, with the resulting next actions, would have taken a small army of staff to complete. It was very diverse and reflected my various interests, but there was simply too much.
I spent part of my holiday vacation figuring out what projects I wanted to focus on, and removing everything else. Removing involved not just moving a project back into a holding pattern; I also completed about a dozen outstanding projects that needed only a few final items done in order to meet my criteria for completion.
Some projects did get shifted to the Someday list, however. In some areas of my life where there had been multiple projects going on (crafting, for instance), I made myself pick one. Everything else went on the Someday list.
Figuring Out Payback
The next task was to figure out what the long-term payback on these projects were. The projects were ranked 1, 2, 3 depending on how I felt they would impact me in various time frames. This part was inspired by the article by Steve Pavlina, “The 50-30-20 Rule“. I categorized and sorted; then I moved more projects to the Someday list. The remaining projects were ones I could fully commit to.
Committing, Or Saying “It Would Be My Joy and Pleasure…”
Recently I heard someone say that she never says yes unless she can also say “it would be my joy and pleasure” as well. It’s an interesting thought, especially in a culture where many people are overextended because of their inability to say no. While I am able to say no, I do not exercise that option often enough, and I had projects on my list that I had been dragooned into.
I went through the list again. More projects moved to the someday. Some projects were canceled outright, or passed to other people.
In the end, I have a lean project list that excites me.
The List Shrinks
Now that I am committed to bringing these projects to completion, I make some movement on each project every day. This keeps me moving forward in every aspect, and my lists are much shorter.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not spending hours on every project every day. Each project has something done on them, even if it is small and simple action (“Knit 5 minutes” or “Read Blogging Book 15 minutes” or “Pull Pied Piper music from the file”). Some projects get major actions; it depends on how much time and energy I have.
In conclusion, I have to say that paring down my lists has really gotten me excited about “doing”. The busy-ness is going, I am making strides on projects I consider important, and keeping my system usable, all at the same time. Sounds like a win-win to me!