“You need to practice being a nobody.”
Those words made the hairs on the back of my neck stand.
Growing up as a shy, skinny, Magic the Gathering playing nerd – I had spent my entire life striving and trying to prove to others that I was indeed a somebody.
Sensing my discomfort, my spiritual teacher continued: “In a world where everybody is a nobody – everybody is a somebody.”
This is fantastic advice… for task management.
(Yup, I just made that haaaaaard pivot.)
Let’s say your looking at a long list of incomplete tasks, trying to determine which one to complete. We’ve already established that on any given day, we’ve got 2-3 “good” hours of focused work, so it’s critical that you sequence your day accordingly.
So you slap on a due date. A fake one, hoping that it becomes the forcing function to complete the task. Yes, you really want to use that leftover FSA money before it expires in the new year.
But alas, the day escapes you. Caught up in the latest fire-drill or endless Slack thread, you move the (fake) due date forward by one day. Then another. And then another.
“In a world where everybody is a nobody – everybody is a somebody.”
And in a world were every task has a due date – no task has a due date.
Fake due dates don’t work. Our brains are way to clever for that sh*t. It’s why we know that we can drive 70 mph (in a 65). It’s why we are totally OK jay walking across Fifth Avenue.
A better approach to due dates
Instead of using fake due dates, we can leverage the insights from David Allen’s time-tested Getting Things Done methodology. Allen draws a line in the sand on due dates – you can only use them if there’s a severe and immediate penalty for not hitting the deadline. That covers:
Paying your rent.
Buying your wife a birthday gift. (Penalty = very severe)
Sending your prospect their RFP.
All of these have true due dates. Want to know what doesn’t?
Scheduling your annual physical.
Spending 1:1 time with each of your kids.
Signing up to DuoLingo to learn Spanish.
None of these have a penalty for not getting them done on time.
However, that doesn’t mean they are not important. In fact, one could argue that they’re even more important than the tasks with due dates.
Which leads to an obvious question: How on earth can you prevent these tasks from falling through the cracks?
Getting Things Done recommends adding meta-data (aka tags or contexts). That way, you can filter your tasks such that the right ones find you.
If you’re running into a meeting with your boss, you can pull up the context Boss to see all the tasks that require their input.
If you’ve got a long drive, you can pull up the context Phone to see your call list (Mom, Accountant and your BFF for their birthday).
If it’s past 4pm and you’re feeling Low Energy, you can pay your utility bill, schedule your physical and print the Amazon return label.
And when you’re in the zone, you can start chipping away at that $10,000 hour work – developing a sales strategy or having a Zoom call with that 8 figure prospect.
Tags let you slice-and-dice your tasks across the dimensions that matter to you. Ensuring that you get the RIGHT stuff done.
But there’s still an elephant in the room. How do you ensure that critical activities don’t fall through the cracks?
The Weekly Review ensures that every 7 days, you “check-in” on all your tasks, elevating those that need your attention, while crossing off those that no longer matter.
And it ensures that your lack of due dates never come back to haunt you.