Beware of combustive task creep
If you’re old enough to remember the movie Critters, you’ll remember that the apparently harmless creatures starring in the 80s classic were anything but – and chances are, more than a few items on your task lists harbour an equally destructive potential.
A dreadful duo
Quick, answer me this: when are you most likely to get the least done? When you’re checking things off your task list at an alarming rate, all the while thinking you’re doing great. You see, unless you’re very – very – good at managing your task list the right way, odds are you’re pelting down tasks quicker than you can count them due to a dreadful duo: you favour efficiency over effect, and you’re letting your dopamine receptors get the better of you.
Let’s focus on effect first: most people have a rather insane number of items on their task lists if they have managed to master the aspect of universal capture – that is, to write down everything between “I should have done this ages ago” to “I’ve gotta do this right now” and “I might want to do this in the future”. If you do this already: bravo. Now, your next step is to make sure you prioritize the tasks that will bring you one step closer to achieving your goals and dreams.
Alas, it’s much easier to spend time knocking one little thing after another (efficiency!) off the task list – which leaves you feeling accomplished as you’re doing it, but is in truth an implosion of your productivity: you’re getting things done, but you’re not getting any further. It’s a ravishing tango between our lizard brains and the ghost of willpower lost.
Doing important tasks is almost always hard: that’s why you should force yourself to focus on them to the exclusion of everything else, as belittling their value is effectively handing control of your life over to someone else. By the way: never confuse urgent with important. If your car is blocking traffic and causing a riot while you’re convincing your girlfriend not to run off to Paris with that well-chiseled bloke from art class… well, let’s just say the car can wait.
What to do about it
The next time working with your task list feels like playing a game of Duck Hunt (along the lines of this is too easy), chances are you’re right. Stop. Contemplate. Simplify. Trust your gut. Work smart, and bend the world to your will.