Imagine your jobs to do list looked like this:
(A mixture of urgent (no. 2) and not urgent, important (no. 7) and not important)
I’ve put them in an approximate order of doing, just as an example.
- Burst pipe
- Mum visiting in 2 hours and we’re out of milk
- Overdue electricity bill
- Renew car insurance
- Make and launch new product idea, before the competitors think of it
- Iron some shirts
- Arrange to go fishing with my brother
- Fix leaking gutters
- Plan next year’s holidays
- Ask boss for pay rise
- Paint living room
- Get a new living room carpet
- Xmas presents in Nov (it’s March now)
- Learn Italian
- Buy a saxophone
- Learn to ride a unicycle
- Tidy up my office
- Clear out my attic
If this was all there ever was for me to do, it would be fine. I would eventually reach those last five down in the murky depths of my list – three of them will enhance my life (Italian, saxophone, and unicycling) and two (tidying the office and attic) probably do need to be done and might lead to efficiency gains or the finding of some important things that I’d forgotten about.
But unfortunately I’ll NEVER reach those last five, I’ll never learn Italian or clear out my attic, because there are always more things coming in and joining the list above them.
In fact, even the ones half way down, like painting the living room, will be reached much later than I’m expecting. I could probably do the top ten in a few days if I did nothing else, but due to
- the amount of unavoidable jobs that aren’t listed (eating, travel, email, work etc)
- and the arrival of other things onto the list,
…it could be MONTHS before I reach number 11, if ever.
So the conclusions of this are
- Things take longer to be done than you expect and it’s worth allowing for this realisation when you forecast or promise dates
- Some things will never get done, unless you:
- Say no to more or delegate more
- Realise that if something MUST be done it needs to be given greater priority – for example if you cannot the face the idea of never learning to unicycle then it has to be given either more urgency or more important. Because “later” probably means “never”. It needs a ruthless hard look: do you want to ever do this? Or do you want to admit defeat, and take it off the list? Or move it up higher and condemn something else to never being done?
- Maybe a jobs to do list should never be longer than 15 items? (And is 15 the right number – I don’t know!)
- Is there a system that will tell you where the cut-off point is on your list? The point below which those things will never be reached, as the horizon recedes as fast as you can drive towards it? The point beyond which you can’t dive deep enough because there are always more things arriving in the shallower waters?
- Maybe if something has been on your list longer than 6 months we can safely conclude that you’re never going to reach it? So it’s time to either delete it or move it up the list in exchange for something else?
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