A reader sent me this comment recently:
Actually have an entry in my tickler file1 about creating a tool with better “snoozing” than manual review and better handling of intermittent recurring tasks, as well as helping to build new habits.
It’s a snoozed entry, though.
I have several projects like this: I consider them significant, but not urgent.2 Many people’s “trusted systems” (meaning their GTD tools) turn into a graveyard for significant-but-not-urgent tasks and projects. This happens especially if they have trouble simply deleting things. (That’s another article: “You Ain’t Gonna Do It”.)
Why don’t we start these items? I can think of a handful reasons that I have trouble starting them:
- I don’t see the finish line clearly enough.
- I have other responsibilities that are genuinely more urgent.
- I have other responsibilities that seem more urgent (seem) and the guilt of not making progress on those stops me from doing something else.
- I don’t see the next step clearly enough.
Some of these reasons relate to Dale Emery’s model of motivation—
A person will tend to feel motivated to do something if:
- They feel capable of doing it, and
- They feel confident that they can foresee the results of doing it, and
- They want those results.
Once I learned this way of thinking about motivation, all kinds of strange behavior stopped seeming strange to me. I saw it in my own life: it explained why I had success with personal finances but, until recently, failed at losing weight.
Some of these reasons relate to my general insecurity and lack of confidence. (Yes! If you’ve met me, that might surprise you, but once you get to know me better, it shouldn’t.) Notably, my fear that if I don’t do certain projects, then people will stop offering to pay me. Of course, I have plenty of evidence that shows that enough people value my work that I will have a big-enough income stream for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty about doing “fun work” when I “should” be doing something scary, like flailing around trying to attract potential clients. From what I’ve read online, most entrepreneurs have this problem, so I don’t need to feel so alone. You’d think that this would make me feel better, but not always.
One key point that seems particular to my situation, but I’m sure some of you share, is the feeling that given how little energy I generally feel—and I especially go through at least one very low-energy period per year—I “can’t afford” to spend the little energy I have working on projects that don’t have a clear, obvious, significant return on investment. This restricts me a lot when I find myself doing things in which I have no real expertise, like marketing. This worry about not having a clear path to victory then fuels my fear about my income streams drying up, which leads me to deeper feelings of insecurity, which leads me back to bed. Ugh.
All this helps me feel more understanding of those tasks and projects that sit in our “someday/maybe” folder, that seems like they remain on permanent “snooze”. Maybe if we understand more about the forces that lead us to keep smashing the snooze button on those tasks, the less pressure we’ll put on ourselves to do them, and the sooner we’ll feel enough energy to give to them. And we’ll do them. And we’ll feel better. We hope.
David Allen, Getting Things Done. A guide to organizing your out-of-control working backlog. You can use this for yourself while you convince people around you to try it.
J. B. Rainsberger, “Getting Started with Getting Things Done”. If you don’t have the energy to read an entire book, you can read a few pages and start feeling the benefits right away.
John Kotter, A Sense of Urgency. Most people don’t think about this topic enough, and fell prey to false urgency. Don’t.
J. B. Rainsberger, “You Ain’t Gonna Do It”. A suggestion to become comfortable deleting tasks and projects because you aren’t going to do them—even if you think you might possibly do them. Don’t worry. If you find it important enough, then it will come back.
Dale Emery, “Motivation”. A model of motivation that I have used with great effect for over a decade.
In Getting Things Done terms, a tickler file is something that reminds you about tasks or projects that you need to think about starting soon. It’s not the same as setting a “due date” on a task, but more like setting a “start date”. OmniFocus supports this directly: if you say “start this task on January 30”, then you won’t see it in your list of next actions until January 30.↩
I have seen this modeled with independent axes for “important” and “urgent”, but I find that many people—especially if English is not their native language—have trouble distinguishing the two ideas. For this reason, I use “significant” to mean “I want the good results from this work, but I can wait to receive them”.↩