[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Do you ever have so much to do you can’t figure out where to start? Or you bounce between things, unable to complete them?
Most importantly, does the stress of having things to do make you miserable?
A model for getting things done: Your mind fixates on obligations it wants to remember, distracting you from everything else
Written that way, the model sounds like a problem. It would be if you didn’t take the time to think of solving it. That’s one of the values of stating and understanding your beliefs. When they create problems, you can solve them, which you can’t if you sweep them under the rug and don’t expose them.
When you have something you need to do and your only way of remembering it is your memory, your mind devotes as much resources as it needs to remember it and get you working on it. It will pull mental resources from what you’re doing otherwise, lowering your quality of work and causing you stress.
That means if you have more than one priority you’re trying to remember, you can’t focus on either without distraction.
My original solution was first to know my priorities and work on things in their order of importance, second to write to-do lists of the other things, and third to forget about unimportant things. This loose system was based in knowing my values — they tell you your priorities. It worked and it motivated me to understand my values but it was loose, so not as effective as it could have been.
Getting Things Done explained a comprehensive system that many follow to the T. I merged his system with mine into something simpler that works for me.
According to another model of mine, which I’ll write about tomorrow, everyone does what they think is best given their view of the world — that is, their beliefs — which turns models and beliefs into strategies. Today’s model, after David thought about it enough, led to a strategy to avoid relying on your memory to get things done. It works.
Strategy to solve the problem of today’s model
I boiled the process down to creating a system once and for all for how to sort stuff coming into your life without worrying you might lose something valuable.
- If I can do it in a couple minutes, do it.
- If it’s worth doing later, put it in a place I won’t risk forgetting it.
- If it’s not worth doing, get rid of it.
I boiled down the storage part to:
- I keep my inbox to a few items overnight.
- A to-do list on my computer (a text file).
- A calendar on my computer.
- Paper mail worth responding to goes into a pile on my kitchen counter that never gets to more than a few items.
- The rest worth keeping goes into files on my computer or two file holders in my closet, which is basically taxes, receipts of things I might return, and letters from people I like.
(David also includes regularly reviewing your priorities on different time scales, which I haven’t felt the need to formally implement.)
When I use this belief
I use this belief when I have more than one important thing to do, which means all the time. The strategy leads you to create a system that, once created, you don’t have to think about anymore. You just get things done and your worry decreases.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces not knowing what to do in what order or trying to do more than one thing at a time with doing one thing at a time and doing it well.
Where this belief leads
David Allen told me at a cocktail party that he uses his system not primarily for productivity, but for mental freedom, calling himself a “freedom junky.” His term stuck in my mind and made me realize the value of having a system that works. Efficiency and productivity are nice, but it gives you freedom.
My result: mental freedom. That’s why I recommend it.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees