Put Up a Closed Sign on Your To-Do List

When the weekend (or a little snippet of time off) arrives, suddenly all those pent-up projects you’ve been putting off forever come crashing down on your head. You want to get them all accomplished, but that wealth of time gets parceled up a multitude of ways and you end up stymied.

You can’t do it.

Author Oliver Burkeman knows this phenomenon all too well. As a former productivity expert, he’s switched off the to-do list and offers some sobering advice in his book Four Thousand Weeks.

Though that news might initially come as a shock, it’s also realistic. With a finite amount of time, you simply can’t tackle that overburdened to-do list. So in the end you end up getting little or nothing done and feeling miserable about it. 

Yet once you accept that you won’t get it ALL done, you can then choose what you really want to do. He advised to make multiple lists for yourself.

Dream List

This is where you put all those things you’d want to do, including those chores you have to do on a day to day basis. But not all dreams come true. Just because you wrote it down, doesn’t mean you’ll have the time to devote to it.

Closed List

This is where the rubber hits the road. Instead of a list that keeps going ad infinitude, this list is closed. It only has eight or ten slots. No more. That means you have to make some hard choices as to what you actually want to do. Anything that doesn’t make it onto the closed list doesn’t get done.

Well, it can get done, but you have to either complete something on the closed list or scrap it. With these limited choices, you’re more apt to actually accomplish these tasks. 

You might even find you need a third list for Pending Items, ready to jump onto the closed list once there is space. Sort of like a waiting room for things to do. 

Plan to Fail

To make this strict task list work, you need to decide in advance what you plan to fail at. In other words, some of the daily chores might not fit into the list, so you will need to temporarily eschew them for the tasks you really want to do (write that novel, sketch that paining, learn that new song). You will have to accept that your desk might be messy or the lawn might be overgrown. My personal chore that I let lapse is shaving. I love using the straight razor, but it takes time. Time that I could be using to write. So sometimes I let my face get a little shaggy. 

To accomplish your goals you might even need to step back a little in other areas of your life. Put in the bare minimum at work or skip your fitness routine for a week or so. It’s not that you’ll never push yourself in these areas again. It’s just acknowledging you have only a finite amount of time. If you really want to complete an artistic endeavor, something has to give. 

Humans can’t work 24-7. And even if we could, we’d amass even more items to do and then be in the exact same spot again (only now with no sleep).

Select the things you will accomplish and set aside those that you will neglect. Then put up the closed sign and get to work.

Tim Kane

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