There is this annoying thing with prioritized to-do lists: The stuff at the bottom almost never bubble up, so they are not executed. Apparently, plenty of my students have found it annoying enough to ask me about it, and I thought the answer to handling this will be beneficial to you as well.
HERE WE GO:
People prioritize in different ways, taking different parameters into consideration; The one constant is that there always are 3 parts to any to-do list. If you look at the very top of the list, you’ll find items that the most important and urgent; Right after them there are all the things we fantasize of accomplishing, but are willing to compromise on, and last there is the portion of the stuff we just put there in case one day we run out of tasks. More precisely, there are 3 specific parts to your list:
The items on your ‘MUSTS’ portion are one of two things:
- Important: Tasks that are core for your business, ones that bring value and are a living part of your business.
- Urgent: Tasks that are running out of time before deadline, tasks that others depend on and fires you need to put away (such as your spouse can’t pick up the kids after school, so you need to drop everything and do it).
The items on your ‘MUSTS’ portion of the to-do list will get done by hook or by crook – you know it, I know it, and even your dog knows it. The only problem is that the definition of ‘important’ (unlike the definition of ‘urgent’) changes as time goes by and as the circumstances change.
The most important thing to remember about the ‘MUSTS’ is that you don’t question them once they hit this portion of the list, so make sure you are indeed letting in only the ones that are TRULLY important. In other words – get a bouncer to your to-do list.
OK. You don’t want to admit it, but creating SOPs, learning a new hobby & creating extra content ‘just in case’ is a nice-to have. I’m not saying it isn’t important – I’m just saying that it’s not a must-have (otherwise, it would have proudly be written in the above section. BOOM.).
A quick way of knowing if a task is a ‘nice-to-have’ is to ask yourself: What would happen if I didn’t do this task for a month?…
If the answer is ‘nothing special’ – it’s a nice-to have.
Items from this section of the to-do list have a tendency to become urgent, and being bumped up to the ‘MUSTS’ part of the list. Time goes by, there is nothing pressuring you to finish those tasks, there always are some other thing ‘cutting in line’ of your prioritization, until one day hell breaks loose and you need to write that extra content. NOW.
This section is the garage of your to-do’s; It’s where you put tasks that you don’t know if you will ever do, or if you even should do them – but you don’t want a good idea to go to waste, so you put it there. In the garage.
Usually, if a task is at the very bottom of the to-do list, it’s in the garage and you’re keeping writing it on your ‘to-do’ list out of habit. These are the tasks that never get bumped up, therefore they never get done.
The curious part is – WHY don’t these tasks get bumped up? Why doesn’t their priority rank goes higher, the longer they hang in your to-do list? You would think that a task you’ve been meaning to do for months will finally get her day of glory, right?
What is even more interesting is why these tasks don’t become URGENT. I mean, if it doesn’t become urgent it doesn’t have a deadline, but if it doesn’t have a deadline how do you ever hope to accomplish it?
The short answer to both those questions is that these tasks are not tasks – they are brain-dumps that got promoted. You stuffed them in the garage and now are afraid to let them go. Worry not – I have a solution!
BURN THE GARAGE.
Take everything in this portion of the list and throw it away. There is nothing important OR urgent there, so stop wasting your resources on remembering and listing it. Get rid of the clutter in your to-do list.
The problem is not that the tasks at the bottom never get done, it’s that you include things that are not important to your life and business in your to-do list. When prioritizing right, you are left with MUSTS, NICE-TO-HAVEs & an archived folder in your Evernote to keep up with your brain dumps. That’s it.