For the entire year that I have lived in this suite, a cardboard-velvet box piled over with envelopes and mail sat on the floor between my filing cabinet and my entertainment unit. Today it is gone because yesterday I took twenty minutes to file it all.
It feels very different in here now. Cleaner karma. Better Feng Shui. It almost feels like I removed something from my head.
That box was, ostensibly, an active part of my “workflow system.” Any file that ended up out of its home was to be dropped in there, the whole lot to be re-filed at the end of every day.
All of the other components of my system have been in a similar state of stasis for a similarly long time. It was months ago that my master to-do list grew so stagnant and irrelevant that I stopped even looking at it, which reveals an interesting fact about our to-do items: they often don’t really need to be done at all.
There are items on it that have been “urgent” for months. I have certainly experienced inconveniences and lost opportunities because of my ridiculous level of procrastination, but clearly none of the eighty forgotten items on my list were life or death, or I’d be dead. Life has been generally pleasant.
So the bulk of my supposed must-do items (and probably yours too) were completely optional, benign opportunities to get ahead, rather than the creeping imperatives they seemed to be.
Still, their undoneness imposes a persistent mental burden, on the clarity of your mind and your self-esteem. Unmet commitments represent personal shortcomings.
I am a career procrastinator. So are many of you, I gather. None of the articles I’ve written has inspired more heartfelt “Oh my god that’s me!” responses than one I wrote about procrastination. In the article I argued that procrastination is not laziness, but a symptom of certain kinds of private fear.
Fear is much less a part of my day-to-day consciousness now than it was when I wrote that. I feel like I’m game to take on my concerns as they emerge in life, including the fuzzier, scarier projects that made my to-do items into more of a permanent collection than a rolling list.
The two approaches
Everyone experiences a steady stream of to-do items in their lives. People generally subscribe to one of two philosophies in dealing with them: acting on them arbitrarily as they become salient, or by using a system to organize them. In other words, they either keep their list of concerns in their head or they put them on paper. Read More