To do lists are just one of those things. We know they matter, a lot. We know that having them and following them certainly leads to getting more done. Then why is it, that they tend to get longer and not shorter? It’s because not all tasks are created equal. It’s because our human operating system is a 200,000 year old piece of software not designed for a list based society. Let me explain.
The Urgent and the Important
Generally the things we do can be broken down into either Urgent or Important. If it’s neither of these things it shouldn’t be on the list. Urgent stuff has deadlines and customer requirements and might even be a fire that needs extinguishing. Important tasks are the other things we’d like to do, and know we should do, but very often don’t get around to. We don’t get around to them because they’re well, not urgent. Our DNA is designed to respond to urgent, to fear, to danger. And while urgent tasks don’t mean a sabre tooth tiger is going to eat us for dinner, our emotive reaction is much the same. It’s why fear and urgency most often wins. In a modern, sans sabre tooth tiger world, we need to do the opposite of what our instinct tells us to.
The irony is that the less important tasks we do, the more urgent things pop up. By only doing the urgent we create a perpetual cycle of inefficiency. We start carrying buckets of water to the ‘fire’, instead of building a pipeline and hose system for the time a fire breaks out. If we ever want to get in front, and start hacking our to do list we need to undertake some counter intuitive actions. Are you ready for it?
- We need to miss some deadlines.
- We need to disappoint some people.
- We need to let some urgent things go unattended and go, wrong, break, fail.
- We need to embrace a metaphorical ground zero.
To get started it is worth splitting your do list into two columns: Urgent and Important Tasks – see what gets your attention at the end of each day and you’ll see the trap we all fall into. You’ll also see that important tasks also change their shape and often become urgent later. What we need to do is the important things which build a structure and system to remove many of the recurring urgencies. Once we have to courage to do this, we’ll end up being the people who can respond to urgent, the fewer times they occur. It may even be worth taking secret holiday for a week (pretend to be out of town, off line and on vacation) to get your important stuff in order and start a new pattern.
Happy To Do list hacking!