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Why do you need lists?

February 28, 2015

A few reasons to maintain lists

Re-allocate attention — you need lists so you don’t either forget things important to you or spend all of your attention trying to  remember things that are out of context.

Order for dependency — some things naturally proceed others for contextual reasons. Put the decorations on the Christmas tree after the lights.

Prioritization — Prioritize according to your values, context and energy management needs.

Granularity — you need to work at the right scale to fit tasks into available openings in your day, maintain focus and sustain energy while minimizing switching costs.

Simplification — Some tasks or projects are complex and have many steps. Break them down and find simpler chunks of work to understand and attack.

Clarity — focus on one, well-defined thing at a time. Write about the more complex or important tasks to learn and think more clearly.

Synchronization — you may need the attention and energy of others, so you might need to plan for overlapping context and clear communication.

Coherent Action — you may need many iterations or successive applications of energy and attention to accomplish the objective. A good plan will make coherent action over time possible.

Iterate to Milestones — Make lists to keep yourself honest about getting to the next deliverable or check point directly, cut out the “fixing to do” and “might need this later” stuff and go directly for things that providing results and learning.

Task List Checks

Here are a few tools for thinking about your tasks and getting the level, focus and balance right:

A. On the scale of days, weeks, or months (hours too short; years too long), are energy flows energy in balance? Are you feeding and being fed equally? Is the vitality of your body matching the requirements for working, learning, and relationship building? If not, re-balance immediately. (How can you tell? boredom, helplessness, listless, anger, depression, …)

B. Does the task serve the value realm you have assigned it to? What is the payoff? Who suffers and how, if the task is un-done?

C. What type of important is the task? You don’t necessarily drop anything because of the kind of important it is, but you might find you want to re-arrange some attention blocks to serve the less fear-driven types of important. Aim for some I5 and I6 every day.

I1 Co-dependent/Manipulation
I2 Demand/Threat
I3 Commitment/Practical output
I4 Core value/moral
I5 Aspiration/Desire
I6 Mission/Integrity

D. What kind of urgent?

U1 Negative consequences
U2 Disappointing others
U3 Less value due to changing context (studying for the test after taking it)
U4 Builds lasting value

(Okay, if you have to use Covey’s grid, at least make 24 boxes and color the higher numbers green and the lower numbers red. Then rate your tasks carefully and put them in the proper box. You will be more clear about what values you are serving, but that still won’t help you translate values rationally. So just throw your new, amazing grid away along with your first one.)

E. Granularity. You have a approximately power-law distribution of size of your available time slots every day (that’s another blog post). You have many hours for sleep, a few for eating, meetings, commuting, a few moments for conversations, drinking water, etc. Make tasks every day to fit all of these different sized time chunks. Remember, you are allocating attention, so get the sequencing and context right.

F. Can you delegate? Can you ask or pay someone to pay attention to something so you don’t have to?  This is what you do any time you buy or rent something, so pay attention every time you get the do it myself feeling.  These can be great and valuable experiences, but don’t do it out of habit.

G. Plan to pausing short of the idealistic goal and letting some time pass to assess where you are. (80/20 rule)

H. Test to see if a task pays back in the way you anticipated. Evaluate energy flows and outcomes of tasks a few weeks after they are complete to make sure you are doing what you think you are doing.

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