Jun 142008

Recall when I suggested that things talk to us and let us know what to do with them. Similarly, todo lists talk to us. In fact, every item, as David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, claims is either pushing us away or pulling us closer. I’ve noticed in my own efforts to be productive that any time something has gotten onto a todo list that I did not want to do and tried to procrastinate on, I stopped using the list all together.

Of course, because I stopped using the lists, I fell out of the GTD zone, things started creeping back into my head, my clarity of mind was destroyed and I became hugely unproductive. The consequence of one unpleasant thing on my list sent me off the rails. That is what I call a contaminated todo list. One thing that you’re procrastinating on contaminates the list and contaminates your energy.

So, now I realize what procrastinating on one or two things does to me. It ruins my energy for everything else. Occasionally I can leverage something very unpleasant by procrastinating on it and doing something that’s simply unpleasant but appears less so in comparison, but that generally does not work.

Unfortunately, since I’m a student I’m procrastinating 8 months out of 12, and thus am fairly unproductive during that period. That’s why there’s been an explosion of productivity since school ended for the summer.

Right now, though, there is something on my todo lists that threatens to push me away from GTD yet again. I have to call Bell Canada and ask them why they didn’t let Rogers know that they were taking over our home phone service, so that Rogers kept charging us and we had to pay over 150 dollars in extra fees, and then try to get that money from Bell. As you can imagine, this might result in confrontation and I’m not a big fan of confrontation. However, 150 dollars is an amount that I don’t want to just forgive without at least trying to get it back, and I know that if I leave Call Bell perpetually on my Today list without handling it TODAY, the whole list will go dead to me, and then I’ll fall off the wagon again and be back to bored unproductivity. So, I’ve to bite the bullet and do it.

In case you’re interested: I use pretty much the regular GTD system on a cheap $30 Palm M125 except with a few changes. I have a Today category and a ProjectsBacklog category. For the Today category, it’s more like a regular daily todo list, where I figure out what contexts I’m going to be in that day and just move tasks over from their respective context categories (ie @Home, or @Work, etc). That way, I have a short list to work through on a given day instead of flipping between six different lists. ProjectsBacklog is to hold a very short list of projects I will do next. I have a really long Someday/Maybe list and I don’t want things to get totally lost in there.

Another thing I’m very careful to do is make sure all my NextAction lists remain short. Having too long a list does two things: gives me ample opportunity to pick and choose which actions to do while, in theory, any action on my NextAction list has to be done ASAP; and secondly, it is just a turn off to see a ridiculously long list. It’s just so much more motivating to see a short list of say 5 things that you know if you put an hour into, you can make that list empty. While I like the win of marking things off as done, my favourite is marking a whole list off as done. While I recognize that my work is never done, I like to completely work a list down to nothing, enjoy that for a bit and then add more things to the list rather than continually adding and completely. It just works better for me. And it might for you.

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