Questioned! And Answered.

After I posted yesterday’s article called ‘Get a Grip – It’s Liberating’, I was intrigued by a reply sent to me by Stefan.

He wrote: “You could add one funny detail: once you listed it all, how “old” was the oldest item on the list? Once you clarify the related action, it often becomes clear that you did not do something for YEARS, because you did not spend 1 MINUTE to think about the first action, which would have started it…”

In answer to his first question, the reply is “I honestly can’t remember” because, having listed them on my smartphone To Do app, I deleted them on completion – I went from 39 home tasks to about five within 48 hours because they were there, in my face, and demanded attention. Some needed an hour’s attention, some even less. And in my defence as a time management writer, I was pretty up to speed with work as a whole.

As to the second sentence in Stefan’s comment, he makes a very good point. Quite often, we put something off for a somewhat longer time than we are prepared to admit. Some people have left things on their list for years, and months are probably a regular timeframe for ‘get to laters’.

Notwithstanding the fact that people regularly procrastinate acting on their task list because they don’t want to do them because of inconvenience or potential conflict, there are other things that go on To Do Lists that never get done for a different reason.

We never wanted to do them in the first place.

Sometimes, we add something to our lists because someone else has suggested it. In the moment we may want to do it. Or we feel obliged because of the relationship we have with the individual making the suggestion. Last year I accepted a challenge from friends to do a spectacular cycle ride in the Alps. In the moment, I was swept away by the idea. A month later, when overtraining (oops), I looked at the project in the light of day and realised not only how hard it was going to be (in a sport I exercise out of a need to be fit and not because I necessarily like it), but how much money it was going to cost me just to travel to the venue and stay a couple of nights – thousands. Just so I could say “I did that” to a disinterested audience. And it was money not spent on wife or family. It was certainly not going to be a holiday!

That’s a spectacularly over-played example, but it does show how we sometimes we put things on our lists that we want to do ‘in the moment’ but which, on reflection, will never get done. But the shame of deleting them from our list plays on our mind so we leave them there.

My advice is (work aside) that if you find something is on your list that you really don’t want to do – delete it. Forget about it. It’s just sapping your mental strength, because every time you see it undone you feel guilty and it takes up valuable thinking time. But if you do feel you can’t completely get rid of the task, put it on a  list called ‘Someday/Maybe’. It means you still like the idea but it’s no longer a commitment – it’s an If. No-one feels ashamed that they haven’t done something which is an If. Provided that the If means ‘If I ever want to’.

So, Stefan, that’s my answer. Nothing on my list was so old that I needed a minute to realise it needed to be done, and/or that I could have done it a long time ago. I still rely on the methods outlined in Police Time Management. But those methods include and are supplemented by the GTD® methods so I was pretty much ahead of the game. It was the smaller tasks that perhaps I didn’t realise needed attention until I did the Physical and Mind Sweeps that brought them to mind. And that was the thrust of my article – get on top of the things you’d forgotten needed attention.

Published by policetimemanagement

30 year policing veteran and time management authority. Now I've combined the two.

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