The "Short List” is Not the "Short Bus" (Don't Get Confused)

Love it or hate it, there’s no in between. 

Choose a side, is it DC or Marvel, McDonalds or Burger King, CVS or Walgreens, make lists…or don’t make lists.

Some “check it twice,” but that only comes to mind because Christmas is right around the corner (I digress).

So what’s the deal?  Why is the notion of a “to do” list wrapped up with so much baggage? 

There are a lot of stereotypes and pre-conceived notions out there about how best to put a to-do list together, why they work, why they don’t, etc.  Some folks flat out won’t do it!

Yet, the overarching theme I’ve noticed among colleagues, friends, and the online community is, “to-do” lists bring stress.  I totally get it, because they stress the heck out of me, the self-proclaimed productivity guy!

Why do lists stress us out, you ask? 

I’m so glad you did! 

We get torqued up about lists, because lists get too frickin' long over time.  We don’t know what to do with them, they endlessly stay on our minds, and we eventually give up.

One of the things I like to do when blogging each week is to be completely transparent about my struggles and put myself out there to learn and grow from this community, and this list thing is a big one for me.

The fact of the matter is, I'm creating my own stress because I'm the one putting my own lists together! 

I'm not perfect, I never claimed to be, but I learned as recent as earlier today, that it's ok not to be perfect and not to know everything.  If I did, I wouldn't be able to relate to and/or help anyone with anything!

So here's my beef with "to-do" lists.  Since it's easier to type, let's just refer to them as "task" lists henceforth, cool?

Cool.

Random Task Lists Suck

That’s really what it comes down to, right?  If we’re randomly capturing items on a long task list without having any boundaries or process around why we’re doing it then it’s going to suck, because it doesn’t mean anything.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer and supporter of David Allen’s concept of capturing everything in your head and putting it into a system you trust.  I advocate for followers and clients to do this all the time.

However, I’ve recently been struggling with developing a process that works for me to NOT commit to getting these things done without feeling bad about it!  I write every little thing down in my head and put it into Evernote, but I’m a horrible judge of when I should give myself permission to let something go.

That’s one reason I have a coach and an accountability group I depend on regularly.  

I feel like I’m really good at figuring out what’s important.  I’ve developed creative ways to get feedback and hold myself accountable through things like Productive Yours & Mine and Stickk, but I haven’t taken it to the level of figuring out when I should just punt and/or save something for an indefinite time.  

As a result, I’m becoming more self-aware of my tendencies and figuring out what I can do to turn a task that I supposedly need to complete this month, to something I someday/maybe (taking the phrase from Mr. Allen) should, could, ought to do.

I had an “aha” moment just now... Random is Unimportant.

For me, if an event happens or piece of information enters my life that does not directly support or contribute to the actions I’m taking to drive my business and life closer to my vision for each, it’s random, and random has a new place to go (drumroll please…)

my “Someday/Maybe” List!

Transitioning to “Someday/Maybe” 

If you’ve read, or had any exposure to David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, then you’re familiar with the concept of a Someday/Maybe list, that which you maybe want to do someday, but you’re unwilling to commit to doing it by a specific day.

I have an extensive Someday/Maybe list I use regularly.  The problem is, it’s not big enough, and my weekly/monthly list with deadlines and commitments is obese.

For whatever reason, I’m overly optimistic as to what I think I can accomplish in a given week.  I’m pretty good at understanding time day-by-day, but week-by-week I get tripped up.

What’s my typical MO (Mode of Operation)?

At the end of each week, I move the random tasks on my list, those things I probably intuitively knew I wouldn’t get done but tried to stretch myself, those things I really didn’t even need to get done in the first place, and bumped them to the next week. 

Yes, some do get done occasionally, but what they really get done is a number on my mental energy!  

These things nag at me.  

They claw at my prefrontal cortex uncontrollably and I feel exhausted.

For some reason, at some point or another I thought these things were important enough to put on my task list, and I made a commitment to myself to get them done!  

Why???

The Short List is Not the Short Bus

Here’s an example of stuff on my task list this week that could easily transition to my Someday/Maybe list:

  • Call insurance guy back
  • Schedule golf outing with my kid
  • Review PowerPoint file on 5S principles
  • Setup time to connect regularly with Joe
  • Decide on a vacation destination with Ben and Jamie [alias names]
  • Type up Photoshop notes from course
  • Design a fort with a rock wall on 99designs (yes, this is actually on my task list to complete in December)
  • and many more…

These tasks simply don’t belong here.  

If you have a  task list, don’t be a hero!  Keep it short; the short list is the smart list (and has nothing to do with the short bus).

Here’s a novel idea, how about we simplify our task list to the bare minimum and get all the important things done, those things that are drive our businesses or careers forward?  

How to transition to A short list:

  1. Pick one important task to do each day of the week
  2. Fill in all the urgent stuff (the meetings, appointments, deadline-driven stuff, etc.)
  3. Leave the rest open

All the open tasks go to Someday/Maybe

We can now give ourselves the freedom to pick and choose, at our convenience, which tasks to work on from our Someday/Maybe list.

BRILLIANT!!!  How much less stressful would this be?  

So what am I going to do?  

I'll STOP TALKING ABOUT IT (writing about it, actually) and TRANSFER them over…

NOW!

No seriously, that’s it...I’m done writing and I’m going to transfer this stuff over to my Someday/Maybe list now.

You should do the same, just saying.

Please leave a comment below and let us know how you effectively manage the random and the someday/maybe’s - I’d really love to generate a debate on this one 😃