On ignoring TODOs

A while ago I was looking for a way to organize myself. I read GTD for Hackers, and then eagerly split my TODO into Next Actions, Projects, Waiting For and Someday/Maybe. It all looked nice and organized, and I felt like I’m really doing something to get organized and stuff.

Except that my problem wasn’t really about forgetting to do stuff. It was about not wanting to do stuff. You know what procrastination is? No? Well, I’ll explain it later.

Then I noticed that I usually get motivated just before the deadline of some sort. My calendar was full of deadlines, and a day before I usually sat there and did what was to be done. So I thought, how about artificial deadlines?

Since then, instead of putting stuff on a TODO, I put it in a calendar for a random free day in the near future. Then if I don’t have time to do something, I can postpone it, depending on how much time I still need to complete it.

It appears to be working fine. It’s more about getting motivated than getting organized, but I feel that I cannot be the only one who is looking for “how to get organized” when I really need “how to get motivated to actually get stuff done”.

Hope this helps.

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5 Comments on “On ignoring TODOs”

  1. Assigning tasks to random open dates sounds like a cute idea, I’ll have to try it sometime. (No, that is not a self-referential procrastination joke.) Though I suspect that the artificiality of the deadline will undercut it’s utility in providing motivation…

    • ttjjss says:

      Actually, the term “artificial deadline” came to my mind when I was already writing a blag toast: I didn’t think of it before. In the long run I think the more important thing is just having something in a calendar to clear up.

  2. Oliver Charles says:

    This is dangerous play imo, because it demeans the value of a calendar. The GTD book itself says that the calendar must be a sacred area where the dates really are ultimatums. If you aren’t respecting that, it’s very easy to just start going “Oh, well this isn’t *really* due today, so I’ll just push it back a week”. Very quickly, you get back into shunting tasks around, and you’re back to square one. Instead, I’d recommend you consider “to-do-today” lists.

    Before you even begin doing a bit of work, you look at your mammoth list of tasks to do, and ask yourself the question – “if I had a crap day today, what would be the minimum I’d want to accomplish?” Pick just 2 or 3 things, a number that seems way below what you could achieve. You’ll quickly realise 2 things:

    1. That you don’t always achieve even that
    2. When you do achieve that, it feels damn good, and you just want to keep going.

    I’d also encourage looking into the Pomodoro technique, which I’ve found a great way to break past the “this task is so big, how do I even begin!” barrier.

    • ttjjss says:

      > This is dangerous play imo, because it demeans the value of a calendar. The GTD book itself says that the calendar must be a sacred area where the dates really are ultimatums. If you aren’t respecting that, it’s very easy to just start going “Oh, well this isn’t *really* due today, so I’ll just push it back a week”.

      That’s a good point. I agree that the approach I described is somewhat drifting off the GTD idea. But as I was reading about GTD, I thought it’s more about getting organized than getting motivated. What I lack is the impulse to start doing my things, and putting them in the calendar, even the ultimatums you mentioned seems to work in my particular case. Do you have any pointers to reading what GTD says about getting motivated? I’d love to read that.

      The to-do-today lists sound sane, and they actually look like something I implement using a calendar in my case: I put a todo-that-day in a calendar, and try to achieve that.

      Having a to-do-today not assigned to calendar day seems like something I used as a Next Actions todo: “oh, 6 actions taking 5 minutes each? Bleh, I’ll do it tomorrow”. I see no such effect using a calendar.


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