Three Ways to Suck at your TODO List

“You should have more images on your site.”
“I know! That’s next.”

Next.

Next is a giant TODO list of great ideas. A new design, some WordPress plugins to check out, that brilliant idea for a killer webapp. And you know what? I suck at Next. I have no problem adding things to my TODO list, but I can never seem to get them done fast enough, including whatever’s “Next”.

This is the part where I explain how to fix your productivity problems.

Except I can’t. Because I’m no good at this, remember? So instead, here’s a list of what not to do. What to avoid doing! Bad habits that I just can’t shake, and maybe you can’t either.

1. Don’t book time in your calendar to tackle your TODO list.

You’ll find time eventually, right? After you get back from Vegas, after the move, then you can settle in and finish that guest post.

This will never happen. You won’t just find a pot of free time at the end of the rainbow. If you don’t commit a couple of hours per week to tackling the stuff that normally falls through the cracks, then, well, it’s going to keep falling through the cracks.

This is hard for some people. It’s hard for me. I have a lot going on right now, and I bet you do too. That’s never going to change. Find some time you can commit to every week, even if the only time you can spare is early Saturday morning while your wife is at the gym.

2. Don’t set deadlines for yourself.

Deadlines are for office drones. This is your spare time! You’ll use it as you see fit. You’ll write that ebook when you feel like writing it.

Guess what? If it’s as big as an ebook, and you didn’t start on it right away, you’ll probably never “feel” like doing it. You’ll certainly want to — that’s how it made the list, after all — but that’s not the same as needing to do it more than anything else right now.

Don’t lie to yourself. If you don’t set a deadline, and put something BIG at the end of that deadline to show yourself that you mean business, it’s not going to happen.

There’s a reason offices like deadlines. They work.

3. Don’t let logic overrule emotion.

Of course I want to play softball again this year. Of course I’ll also play soccer. Yes, I promised myself I’d start running this summer, and I still will, dammit; I’ll do all three.

Choosing is hard. It involves making sacrifices. Sometimes you have to give up something you really want to do for something you really want to do. It’s lame. You want to do both, or all three, or all of the above, but the math just doesn’t work out.

This is an easy trap to fall into. Saying “No” is hard. I struggle with it a lot, and unless you’re incredibly self-aware, you probably do sometimes too. The upshot, though, is that there are an infinite number of chances to practice getting this one right. So practice.

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I don’t have a magic formula for implementing the advice implied above. Nobody does, there is no such thing. The only solution is hard work, and being judicious about where you choose to spend your time.

If it’s easy, if it’s not a constant struggle, if it doesn’t feel like work: you’re probably doing it wrong.

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2 Responses to “Three Ways to Suck at your TODO List”

  1. Caroline Says:

    OH NO! I hope you don’t feel overwhelmed with soccer this year! It’s almost like you’re doing both it and running at the same time!!!

  2. dan Says:

    Soccer definitely isn’t overwhelming; it’s by far the lowest commitment of the three sports I’m going to attempt to do. Plus it’s super-fun, and I have an awesome captain :)

    The thing I’m starting to realize is that I don’t suck at time management, I suck at choice. By wanting to do too many things, I don’t leave myself enough time for any of them. I can manage my time as best I please, but it’s not going to make up for having too little to begin with.

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