Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I’m 50 and just last year discovered a very simple trick to keep me energized through all the tasks on my “to-do” list. However, it may not work for everyone. If you thrive on variety and often feel more productive when you have too much to do, you might find this simple trick helpful.
Most of us have reaped the benefits of good list management. Some of us have rather elaborate notebooks or software programs to help us keep on top our responsibilities. My personal favorite is Things for the Mac. It’s a great tool, and supports the principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach. As with any tool, however, it’s how you use it that makes the difference. Somewhere along the way, in my early career, I learned to work my way through my “to-do” list sequentially, starting with the highest priority items, until I reached the end.
That’s all well and good, until I lost energy for the task. What do I do then? Easy. Stop whining, buck up, buckle up, slap myself in the face, if needed, and “git r done.” The problem for me, at least, has been that I’ve not had a lot of success at self-imposed torture. I find that, instead of feeling good about my “discipline,” my energy continues to deplete and I’m more likely to get distracted by less important things, like the phone, email or the vending machine. Trips to the bathroom become increasingly frequent mini-vacations from an onerous task. The project I started with enthusiasm at the beginning of the day looks more like a blood sucking monster I can’t wait to abandon by the time I head home. Of course, nothing else got done either. They were all lower priority. The blood sucking monster ate my whole day and me along with it.
I only wish Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose, was around when I was younger. It would have made me a lot more productive and feeling better about my day. In it, she likens what she calls a ‘scanner’—those who, like me, thrive on variety—with a bumblebee that visits a flower only for as long as it took to get what it came for; the nectar. Like the bee, scanners have their personal nectar, the rewards, that they get from doing a task. The key, as she describes it, is to identify your personal nectar and to move to a new task once you’ve obtained it.
For the last year I’ve been putting that advice to work with incredible results. Instead of viewing my tasks linearly, not starting a new task until I’ve completed the previous one, I now manage them more like a portfolio of opportunities to work on for as long as I have energy for it. When I feel my energy running low, it’s my signal to move to a new task. I may return to the uncompleted task several times a day, but when I do it’s with renewed energy. It seems that my brain may have needed it’s own “rest” room to get the creative juices flowing again.
If you, too, are a scanner and are haunted by the task-linear, bloodsucking monster, try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes.