Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Won’t-Do List

 

No means no! (Photo taken on Vancouver's Canada Line by Margaret Lukens)

 

Productivity is as much about what we choose not to do as it is about what we do. (Remember the Evil Overlord List? 100 tongue-in-cheek won’t-do entries that begins, “Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice.”)

With this in mind, I’d like to supplement my list of committed tasks with a “won’t-do” list.

Below I’ve started with five things I’d like to eliminate from my life. I’ll be adding to my list whenever I think of something that is hindering my efforts to get where I want to go.

My Won’t-Do List

1. I won’t attend meetings with no agenda. And I encourage everyone else not to do it, either. Waste of everyone’s time. And in case it’s not clear, “so that everyone can catch up on what’s happening” is not an agenda. It’s a time sink.

2. I won’t balance my personal checkbook. For over 25 years I balanced my checkbook to the penny every month. In that time, the bank made two errors, one for a dollar and one for a dime, both in their favor. (Both came from misreading the numbers written on a check.) For the hours it takes to balance the checkbook every year, I can live with that error rate. I’m done.

3. I won’t get behind in my business bookkeeping. Given the won’t-do above, this one might seem surprising, but last year when my bookkeeper quit, I allowed my books to get months behind, which caused two problems. First, I had to catch up in order to do my taxes. But more important, I can’t manage my business if I’m not looking at the numbers in a timely way. I won’t “fly blind” again.

4. I won’t arrive on time. I’m already punctual; I believe that keeping people waiting often makes them feel disrespected, and I don’t want to do that. Now I want treat myself more generously. I won’t habitually cut my schedule so close that I feel anxious about arriving on time. Instead I will plan to arrive early. When I do, my reward will be time for a few games of ZenBound or Angry Birds.

5. I won’t agree to serve on committees or boards because I’m flattered to be asked. I love to feel needed and wanted, I do, which makes me something of a sucker for nominating committees and clever task force leaders. Plus, the work they offer me is really interesting stuff that I’d really like to do. But I won’t agree to serve just because I am flattered to be asked. If I don’t have room for it in my schedule as well as a genuine desire to participate, I won’t say yes.

Opinions change. Two years ago I would have said that I feel no need to jump out of a perfectly good airplane; now, thanks to the glowing reports of one adrenalin-amped nephew (who is not a daredevil but a well-balanced business owner, husband, and father of three) I have committed to a sky dive. And there was a time that I believed that, except for an omelet and salad, any meal that took  less than an hour to prepare couldn’t be very good; now I’m all about the 30-minute recipe.

On the other hand, when I look at my won’t-do’s, they look like they’re with me for the long haul. They represent real learning about what supports productivity and what diminishes it.  Last year’s “no way” may be next year’s “why not?” but my won’t-do list is here to stay.

What’s on your won’t-do list? Leave a comment here.

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Worth Repeating – October posts from New Leaf News

 

Still fresh, still good for you! (Farmer's Market, Granville Island, British Columbia. Photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve dipped into the New Leaf News archives to share a few posts that still seem as fresh and relevant today as they did in Octobers past. In case you missed them the first time around, here they come again!

I’m still using mind-mapping as a technique to organize and view more information than is possible with a list or outline. And since I wrote about it last year, I have begun making some mind-maps using a piece of free software that couldn’t be easier: MindMeister. I recently used it to develop the curriculum for my new teleclass/workshop PortaVault Prep. It enabled me to fit essential notes for three hours of class time on a single page.

Do you believe that multitasking is a useful productivity practice? My work with clients indicates you’re not alone. Still, research on how our brains execute tasks is yielding stronger evidence that we need to stop interrupting ourselves. Read this advice from an 18th century father to his son, and take it to heart.

Want your productivity instructions boiled down like a concentrated sauce? Here is last year’s light-hearted look at the main ingredients of getting more done.

Wishing you a happy October!

Why Tasks Hang On – Three Productivity Traps to Avoid

Gum tree seed pods stick; your tasks don't have to. (photo by M. Lukens)

Take a look at your to-do list. Are there things that have been lurking there for weeks, maybe months? How do you feel when you think of those tenacious tasks? Tired? Discouraged?

You can get rid of those “Velcro jobs” faster if you know how they got to be clinging to your days in the first place.

There are three common reasons that tasks hang on.

1. As my father said, “You can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done.” Expecting yourself to accomplish everything that enters your mind just isn’t realistic.

To avoid this trap, observe how long various tasks actually take. Try scheduling tasks in your calendar to give yourself a more realistic benchmark. If I have 10 hours of work to do, but only six hours available, something is going to go undone, at least for today. Recognize that on days when your calendar is full of appointments, you probably won’t be able to accomplish a lot of other work. Be realistic in your expectations.

And if a task is non-essential, give it an expiration date. This prevents jobs from dragging on indefinitely.

As the philosopher William James observed, “there is nothing more fatiguing than the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

I find that because I dream up new ideas nearly every day, I often have assigned more jobs to myself than I could ever possibly finish. If I haven’t written that non-essential proposal or made that call within the deadline, I’ve learned to delete it. If it’s really important to me, it will come back again. For now, I’ll actually be more productive if I just let it go.

2. In his book The Procrastinator’s Digest, a Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy Pychyl, PhD defines procrastination as “a needless voluntary delay.” Procrastination is a terrible productivity trap that keeps tasks hanging on, usually the least pleasant ones.

One strategy Dr. Pychyl recommends for moving past procrastination is to understand the costs of our procrastination and the benefits of acting without delay. Each day, do the least palatable job first. Then, the rest of the day looks brighter, and you are unburdened by the costs of procrastination on those unpleasant jobs.

3. If your goals and objectives aren’t clear, there’s no good way to know which tasks are most important. When everything looks like it has equal weight, important things are bound to drag on.

As I teach in my Plan to Thrive workshop, the solution is to make a clear and compelling plan that really suits you and your business.  This will help you sort out the really essential jobs from the “nice-to-have” ones.

Did you know that people routinely over-estimate what they can accomplish in one year, and also wildly under-estimate what they can do in three to five years? Think about it: if you’re like most people, what you’re doing today is something you could hardly have dreamed of just a few years ago. A clear and compelling plan can help you to be both realistic and ambitious about the tasks you really want to accomplish.

What do you want to brush off your task list? Declare it by leaving a comment here.

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