I often receive emails from my readers that acknowledge that the lessons outlined in the book were profoundly helpful; yet, when it comes time to putting the the concepts into action, old habits and attitudes arise that prevent them from moving forth. We’re all guilty of this–including myself. We read a specific passage or lesson, yet when it comes time to putting concepts into action, we struggle with reality–the reality that life is busy, and filled with a seemingly endless number of tasks.
For instance, one of my readers exclaimed that my article on the to do list strategies from a zen master was excellent; however when he went to put the concepts into practice, he was quickly overwhelmed. His to do list was, as he put it, “massive.” His to do list was so long that it quickly became too intimidating to even start getting things done.
What you will learn from this article
The purpose of this article is to address the challenge of applying simple principles to once complex problems. After reading this piece you will be able to not only manage your to do list better, you’ll be able to get more important items done. This will stem from understanding the nature of reactive tasks and proactive tasks, as well as understanding the “secret” of getting things done.
How Being Small-Minded Can Kill Your Productivity
If you feel like you have too much on your plate, it’s because you have too little important items on your plate. The feeling of being overwhelmed by your to do list sends a signal that you do not have any important goals. You don’t have a clear purpose. This clear purpose stems from setting focused goals, a concept which is further covered in the book.
If your to do list is filled, it’s because you want to fill it. You see, the human mind likes to fill space. If you have a to do list with a lot of inventory (space), you’re more likely to fill it up just for the sake of filling it up. Restraining this urge is very difficult. For instance, check out Yahoo’s search engine, and then switch to Google. You’ll notice that Google’s search page is minimalistic–it’s empty; however, it’s extremely functional. It accomplishes its one through goal: to allow the user to search; whereas, Yahoo mixes in News, Politics, Ads, Sports, etc.
People value not only simplicity, they value purpose. Fill your to do list not with noise, but with a small number of important items.
For this reason, I recommend checking out the best to do list built by Faction3 (it’s the best because it’s founded on my book’s philosophy lol). This to do list was built specifically for the philosophy outlined in this book. You can check it out here, and learn about its background and philosophy here: Zen Master to Do List.
How to Stop Plugging Holes and Start Solving Problems
The second reason you feel overwhelmed centers around the fact that you’re plugging holes in life–you’re not solving true problems. I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else. If you step back and think hard about what you truly accomplish during the day, you’ll often find that your day is filled with reaction-based tasks.
People carry out two types of tasks:
I. Reactive tasks:
Reactive tasks are those that are driven by others.
Obviously, not all reactive tasks are bad–we all must carry out reactive tasks at least at some point in our life; however, the degree to which you carry out reactive tasks determines not only how overwhelmed you feel–it determines how purposeful you feel. As we learn in the book, purpose drives long-term focus. If your purpose is simply defined as, “carrying out the tasks that others give me,” you’ll lose focus easily and will end up burning out.
II. Proactive tasks:
Proactive tasks are those that are driven by your goals Focused Goals.
If you feel overwhelmed, ask yourself through what channels are these to do items coming from? If you have too many that are coming from the Re-active channels, do the following with the task: delete, delegate, do or delay (add to your calendar). You can learn more about this principle in the chapter on productive email use.
Here’s The Secret
Biggest build up ever, right? So what’s the secret?
Here it is:
Your goal should be to balance out your tasks so that 20% are spent on reactive tasks, and 80% are spent on proactive tasks.
Reactive tasks will make you a living, proactive tasks will make you successful.
What Research Reveals About You and To Do Lists
This “secret” wasn’t concocted by myself. I didn’t merely sit around and think of a secret one day. In fact, it’s not a secret. It’s just a fact that is buried within pedantic, academic research archives. Unless you live in the library, or are insanely curious like me, you’ve likely never heard of the secret. You see, an academic study was conducted in 2004 by six researchers from UC Berkely and Cornell. The study centered on measuring to do lists, task management and how people get things done. They analyzed how tasks were completed over time by a specific medium (to do list software, planners, time management software, task software, daily planner, day planner, organizers planners, etc.)
What they found is that, contrary to popular belief, people are not poor at prioritizing. Figuring out which to do items are more important than others is not the challenge; rather, the problem is that these unimportant tasks crowd out the important tasks. Furthermore, an abundance of channels in which people receive tasks (i.e. email, twitter, phone, text messages and receiving tasks in person from people), end up being too much for people to manage. And thus, your proactive, goal-driven tasks fall off the map.
Action Steps to Carrying Out The Secret
The secret centers on the fact that we spend too much time in carrying out reactive tasks. Additionally, we receive these tasks via too many channels.
In order to gravitate towards an effective to do list strategy, you’ll need to carry out the following steps:
Step 1: Set a Focused Goal: As we learned in the proactive task management diagram above, it all starts with setting a focused goal. You can learn more about setting a Focused Goal in the book. After you’ve set a focused goal, implement it into your to do list. When you first begin, it will be nearly impossible to dedicate 80% of your time to this goal; however, over a period of three weeks, slowly make it more of a priority and dedicate a higher percentage of your tasks to carrying out proactive tasks.
Step 2: Cut off Channels: The second way to carry out a more effective to do list is to cut off the number of channels to which you receive tasks. With channels, try to cut it to less than three channels.
For instance, implement services that forwards all of your messages to one channel.
Here are two services that are helpful for cutting off channels:
- Google Voice: Get calls, messages and text messages forwarded to email. After which, you can call your contacts back. Google Voice
- NutshellMail: Get your tweets, Facebook messages and Linkedin notifications forwarded to your email. You can have it send you a daily digest everyday. Nutshell Mail
In addition to these services, listed below are specific tools that will help you get things done more effectively:
- Calendar Organizers: Google Calendar and 30 Boxes
- Daily Planners (or Day Planners): Moleskine Daily Planner
- Organizer Planners (or Organization Planners): Organizer Planner
- Planner Software: MindMeister
- Goal Planner Software: Goalscape
- To Do List: To Do List FocusList
In this article, we covered the following items:
- How Being Small-Minded Can Kill Your Productivity
- Reactive Tasks
- Proactive Tasks
- The Secret: Your goal should be to balance out your tasks so that 20% are spent on reactive tasks, and 80% are spent on proactive tasks.
- Research on to do lists
- The Two Steps for Carrying This Out
- To Do List Apps and Planner Software
What I want you to do next:
If you enjoyed the material in this article, I do not want you to miss out. I’m not going to be shy about it or try to sell you. Simply put, I would like for you to buy How to Get Focused. You can learn more about the book by clicking here.
IMPORTANT: If you enjoyed this article, I'd like for you to experience much more by purchasing the book. You can check out via Paypal. Click here to buy the book.