How to Think About Your To Do List
A slight twist on your perception can help you do more, and do better
About 3 years ago, I finally sat down and read David Allen’s seminal work on productivity Getting Things Done. It would not in fact be hyperbole to say that it changed my outlook entirely. But the change took a while to really sink in. You see, I had been searching for a system for a while. I was always busy, but never completing the things that I wanted to complete. I was never short on ambitions, but I was always short on plans to realize any of them. Enter GTD.
Down the (Productivity) Porn Wormhole
Throughout the year after reading the book, I became obsessed — as I am wont to do — with productivity porn. I tried numerous task managers, reference file programs, folders, pens, notebooks, and so on. I put up the famous GTD flowchart on my cubicle wall at work, assuming that the magic contained therein would sprinkle upon me as I diligently continued my totally reactive work routine. That, of course, did not happen.
Fast forward to the present date, 2016, and I am finally starting to get it. I’ve abandoned all but 2 pieces of software for managing projects and storing information. I’m done looking at programs that promise more and better productivity and organization. What I’ve realized is this:
while a system for handling and organizing your goals, tasks, and information is important, the most important thing for getting things done is your perception of what needs doing.
No More “Have Tos”
Think of it this way: do you have things that you have to do, or things that you get to do? Really think about that question. Notice the way it’s not worded. It’s not asking if you have things you want to do. Nobody wants to call up customer service to dispute the weird charge on their credit card. Nobody wants to buy stamps so they can finally mail out that thank you note for the gift they got 4 months ago. The question is what do you get to do, and the things you get to do are more positively framed than the things you have to do.
This is no hack, or trick, or gimmick. It will take work to change how you perceive your list of tasks and projects in this way. In fact, it will take you going through all of the open loops in your life and relating everything back to your actual goals to effectively change your perception.
However, once all of your open tasks are related to projects that are clearly part of reaching some goal you do really aspire to, everything on your list becomes something you get to do. Waking up in the morning to then check your open tasks becomes like a mini-Christmas morning! You unwrap the list and see all the things that — when done — will take you a step closer to getting you where you’re aiming to go.
At that point, you’re not merely getting things done — you’re getting to do things! And isn’t that so much more fulfilling?