Getting Things Done
I maintain three to-do lists. For home chores, computer projects, and projects at work.
I need the lists. The simple reason is I forget.
I do not like to-do lists.
Often I find the lists cause stress. To-do lists tend to grow. While items routinely get wiped from the list, more often than not another item appears.
An argument could be offered that if something is truly important then we are unlikely to forget. If that argument is plausible then part of the stress likely comes from overwhelming ourselves with useless “busy work.” That is, if we did not maintain to-do lists we likely could reduce the stress in our lives.
The stress starts when a list grows too big. For some reason, we humans allow this stress. We seem to think and act as though we always need to be getting things done. That if we are not getting things done that we somehow live uneventful, unproductive, and meaningless lives. I am not convinced by that kind of psychology.
With both my home computer projects and work lists, which is computer work too, I have three general sections: Fix Me, Do Soon, and Do Eventually. Mostly I don’t care how long that last section grows but when the other two sections start growing I notice I tend to get stressed.
Sometimes I relieve the stress in the obvious manner — by completing the task. Sometimes that means not procrastinating. Put the nose to the grind stone.
Sometimes I avoid a single line item on a to-do list because the task is complicated or involved. Often a complicated task can be separated into smaller, more bite size tasks. While this seems a lot like manipulating a to-do list, the purpose is not to look accomplished because in the end the items get removed from the list. The purpose for creating individual items is to reduce stress. Managing several smaller tasks is more approachable than one big task.
Sometimes I move an item to a lower section. Some might call this procrastinating, but I see this as changing priorities. Sometimes I delete items from the list because I realize the task is not important.
That last reason is important to avoid stress. I have learned that more often than not, an item that remains on a to-do list for a long time usually means the task is not important. At all. Just delete the item. Nobody really cares and the world will still spin.
I call my home computer to-do list a projects list. Only the Fix Me section is a to-do list. The remainder of the list is indeed a projects list — things I would like to do but do not have to do. Even then, should I avoid the list for a long time, I notice the world keeps spinning. Likewise with the other two lists.
I have learned that when little to nothing on the lists get done that often almost nobody notices. The work list might get some exceptions to that observation, but the world does not end if something sits in the to-do list for a while, even a long time.
Some witty person once quipped that “Nobody dies with an empty in-basket.” Probably true. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to keep the in-basket close to empty. There is and always will be something to do. In the end we still die. The secret then, I think, is as the old proverb teaches, is just enjoy the journey. Don’t get bent out of shape by to-do lists.