How do you stay on top of all the things you have to do?
Productivity systems and books. To-do lists / apps, daily planners and date books. I have used and tried a good number of these over the years in a effort to get a better grip on “getting stuff done”, which is the goal of almost all of us these days. We read about the “5 Things the Most Successful People Do Everyday”. We try out yet another focus / productivity tool or app, attend workshops on time management / prioritization, and make lists of lists. So much of what we do feels like busy-work, even if it isn’t.
I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, especially in the context of “wasted time” or “wasted effort”, the definition of “productivity” and the holistic truth of our lives. One of the works that came to mind is the book Slack by Tom DeMarco. I read it a couple of times after I first got it 14 years ago, in the context of working for a large corporation, and now I return for consideration in the context of being an entrepreneur approaching, one hopes in the next several years, something that looks like retirement.
There are a lot of things to be said for getting the numerous things you need to get done for your business and you life “gotten down” someplace. The nature of our lives today is information-driven, and the resulting tsunami of stuff to get done and make headway upon is generally too much to try and hold in your head without dropping a bunch of them along the way. I know several people who have cascading lists…that is, lists of lists….YIKES!
The challenges of this problem and described solution include:
Being overwhelmed and immobilized – Many of the people I know are VERY GRANULAR when it comes to the listing of things they need to do. As a result, their lists tend to be very long and detailed. It can be easy to to look at this kind of thing, despair, and go pull weeds in the garden as an alternative (even if that is one of the things on the list……)…..or go see what’s on Netflix.
Chasing after the wind – This is a phrase from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, describing an activity that has no value. It the context of this article, I see it as two-fold: 1. Out of this list, you choose toe easiest, quickest and most fun things to mark off, avoiding the tough stuff, and 2. Once you clear a few things out, you immediately refill the slots with new things. You never actually finish the list….. Granted, life is always moving things at you, but getting to a high-level point of accomplishment is important to your sense of well-being. You’ll never get there if you don’t get there, so to speak…
Lack of New Things – Lists are transactional. An item is either open or complete. Once the list is fulfilled, you start another…gotta keep moving forward (or so you tell yourself exhaustedly…). There’s no room for discovery, curiosity or serendipity.
Believe me: I’m all for getting things done. What I find disturbing is the lack of space and time for, as I mentioned earlier, discovery, curiosity and serendipity…
When I was much younger, growing up in my hometown in Iowa, I was a regular visitor to our public library. This was a bigger deal, I now know, than I thought at the time. My hometown’s library was a gift of a local businessman over a hundred years ago and they took it seriously. I was encouraged to read by my family at an early age, and the library was a place where I could be surrounded by all kinds of media, especially books, that I could peruse at my leisure. I spent a lot of time “cruising the stacks” and stumbled across a lot of topics, authors and books that would lead me into areas of imagination and thought I wouldn’t have gone into otherwise. I was able to nourish the curious side of my personality there. I had the time, and that time expanded the more deeply I followed the train of accidental discovery. I loved it.
I was young. I had the time and space in which to do this. That was then. This is now. Time is always at a premium, it seems. Even when it appears I have time, things always take longer than I think. My mind tires after accomplishing a huge list of to-do’s during a day, so I follow many of my contemporaries in allowing myself entertainment (a game, a video of some sort, perhaps a novel, if I have the stamina to pick up where I left off, although many of the books I read anymore have to do with my business…..) instead of leaving space for thought / wool-gathering, serendipitous discovery, or perhaps even life-giving interactions with other people.
I visualize this as a picture of an open hand on a black background. The hand symbolizes all the stuff I have listed out and need to get done. The remaining black space around the had is the space of possibility, creativity, and a kind of rejuvenation. Staying firming in the area of the hand will help me to get stuff done, but that’s pretty much it. The interesting bits, the blue-sky imagination space is “beyond the hand,” so to speak.
I want more of the space beyond the hand. I have to resist the tyranny of the to-do list, be willing to put it down, take off my shoes and wander in the field of wonder beyond the hand.
Want to join me?