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Commit to Nothing New Today


This was originally posted on The Pastry Box.

I have this task at the top of my to-do list:

Commit to nothing new today.

I rarely cross it off, as much as I try. My default answer when asked if I can do something, is "Yes." That answer comes from my consulting background, where the answer is always yes: "Yes, we can do that." "Yes, that's possible." "Yes, that's a great idea, let's figure out how to build it." When consulting, time and budget could limit the scope of my completed task list, but they never really limited my to-do list.

Anyone who is a chronic over-committer understands my struggle. The default “yes” answer results in a long, never-finished, ever-growing to-do list that eventually becomes overwhelming to the point where the only possible solution is to burn it in the fireplace, flush its ashes down the toilet, and start again.

In that clean slate moment of starting over, I believe I can keep the next iteration of my to-do list small. First item on that new list is, “Commit to nothing new today.”

As the list starts to grow, I need to remind myself that I have a finite amount of time. Work is never-ending; my life and my free time are not. There is a balance in there, between completing the work I have committed to finishing for my employer, and achieving the non-work goals I have set for myself. That balance requires accepting my limits, setting expectations well, and not adding more tasks to my to-do list.

The most effective tool in my task-adding-gremlins-thwarting toolbox? The question,

"Which of these tasks has the highest priority?"

When I ask this of my clients, it helps remind them their resources are finite and helps them focus on what matters.

When I ask this of my tech-leads and managers, it helps remind them there's one of me. I can work on only one task at a time. I don't always know the ramifications of a missed deadline, but they should if they're adjusting my work day. The question helps them focus on what matters.

When I ask myself, it reminds me to focus on the tasks that matter to me, to add only HELL YEAH-type projects to my to-do list; to recognize when I add an item to the list, I may not have time for it or for a different item already on the list. It helps me resist the busy work that seems to drain the day away.

It helps me focus on what matters.

So, on those rare days I do manage to commit to nothing new ... yeah, well, I'll smile a bit the next day, and add it back to the top of my task list, “Commit to nothing new today.”

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