Taking an axe to my to-do list

Recently I felt my productivity slipping. In fact, I found myself becoming increasing apathetic towards the tasks on my lists. GTD was no longer working for me and I wasn’t sure why.

A thread on the Work.Life.Creativity forum made me realise what the problem was. My lists were far to long to the point of becoming overwhelming. For example, my “Things to read for work” list had 63 items on it. I would estimate I was adding at least five items every week but I only managing to read two or three. The list was becoming longer and longer and the chance of me ever clearing it was becoming increasingly unlikely. The realisation that I couldn’t complete everything I had set myself was utterly demoralising.

I decided to thoroughly review all my lists. How important was each item? How likely was I to actually complete it? If I never did it would it matter? I managed to delete quite a number to to-dos – forty from my work reading list alone. I was quite nervous initially, wondering if I had done the right thing, sending so many tasks to the trash. But once I was left with a manageable list of realistically attainable tasks I felt quite liberated. My interest was renewed once I realised I could actually clear all the items and I’ve been more productive over the last week or so than I had been for the whole of the previous month.

There are two underlying problems here. The first is that I am not good enough at processing. I am very good at capture. Initially I struggled with it, regularly forgetting to write down to-dos. But over time and with practice it became a habit – especially once I started using a Moleskine notebook which is such a pleasure to write in. I am also good at remembering to transfer my to-dos into Things. What I’m not good at is not transferring items. Something that seemed important in the morning may not be so important later in the day. I certainly have a tendency to over estimate the importance of tasks without considering whether it is feasible for me to do them. Now that I have developed a good capture habit I need to concentrate on improving my processing skills.

The second problem is that although I always do a weekly review I have a tendency to concentrate on adding new to-dos and ticking off items that have already been completed. I need to spend more time considering each item and whether it still belongs on my list. Hopefully with more efficient processing and reviewing my to-do list will remain manageable.

Travelling with my trusty iPhone

Over the last few years I have become utterly reliant on the internet. I now rarely buy newspapers and read almost all my news online. I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds and blogs. All my banking is done online. I work with email every day. And of course, Twitter (which has become a bit of an addiction).

We have recently returned from a holiday visiting my husband’s family in Wales. Clearly I was going to need my regular online access to avoid withdrawal symptoms. My in-laws don’t have wi-fi and I didn’t fancy having to plug in the MacBook everytime I just wanted to check Twitter. Luckily I have an iPhone and what with the 2.0 software update a few days before we left, I was all set.

I was fully prepared – I had my mains charger of course but I also bought a car charger which turned out to be essential as the battery life seems so poor since 2.0. (It also doubled as a charger for the children’s iPod Nano. We filled it with Wallace and Grommet and Sean the Sheep episodes. Kept them amused for hours.)

For most of the time I was relying on the standard GPRS signal. I found the O2 signal to be patchy, especially on the motorways. I rarely picked up EDGE and the only time I found wi-fi (via The Cloud in MacDonalds) it didn’t work. So I was generally relying on a super-slow connection. But better than nothing.

The 10 hour drive was made much more pleasant than previous trips thanks to my trusty iPhone. I was able to read the news, check the weather, read blogs and keep up to date with Twitter and email. The Maps app also proved extremely helpful, especially as it was able to update itself to show our current location. Not as good as the GPS on the new iPhone but useful nonetheless.

I was disappointed to find that the O2 signal is virtually non-existent where my husband’s parents live in West Wales. I was however able to get 1 bar sitting sideways on the toilet and leaning towards the window! Read the rest of this entry »

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