We all have things we need to get done. Sometimes in our minds. Most times, on paper or in a task app. I have struggled all of my life with creating to-do lists. Never accomplishing everything on a list. Sometimes looking at them weeks later and wondering how everything got on it.
Taking a new look at how to organize myself, I found more questions than answers. All of them led me to the realization of just how multi-dimensional our lives are. Where how to measure the value of an item on a to-do list (to see if it is worth doing and when) is so hard. Finding there are many different ways to sort, rank, or prioritize what should get done first.
Our responsibilities call for certain items on our list to come to the front (think must do).
Other people’s requests scream for their items to come to the front (think urgency). Where most of these items come from emails.
Our dreams, aspirations, or goals call for other items to come to the front (think impact).
The ease of effort sometimes seductively pushes some items to the front (think busyness).
Immense efforts required have the opposite effect of delaying the start of some items (think avoidance).
Simply our energy level at the moment we look at our list dictates how well we focus on it (causing unevenness and thoughtless weighting of tasks).
There are so many ways we can look at things on a list making it both a challenge and exhausting. How do we measure them in a consistent way? Can we possibly rank them?
Responsibilities should always come first. When we are responsible, we are accountable to someone or something with little supervision. The position we hold or the role we fill dictates that it is our duty to fulfill those items on our list that fall under this category. Regardless of the amount of effort needed or the amount of time required to complete.
Past that though, we now get more complicated. Impact, urgency, avoidance, energy level consideration, or just busyness? What criteria should we use? Well, we can eliminate avoidance by becoming more aware when we subconsciously choose this. There is the saying to “eat the frog first” by doing the thing you least want to do and finish it early in your day. This is an approach to dealing with avoidance.
Busyness (ease of effort first) and energy level both fall into this same category. Where you shouldn’t use it to rank your to-do list but be aware of the strong influence they have on what you choose next to get done.
Leaving us with urgency and impact. This boils down to a battle of short-term vs long-term gain. We do much better with completing short-term things rather than consistently working on things for a much longer-term gain. Judging what to pay attention to based on short-term urgency vs longer-term impact becomes very difficult for all of us.
Responsibility plays a role in both of these. If something is urgent and is within the scope of our responsibility, we should prioritize doing it. If we aren’t responsible then I would argue we should defer to items that have the possibility of being impactful.
If impact can be created for things that we are responsible for, then by all means we should prioritize doing them. Just right after completing the “must-do” items within our scope of responsibility.
We must remember though, that both urgency and impact carry stories with them. Logic says that focusing on items with impact will bring you closer to a future you dream of while urgent items are much more filled with emotion.
The satisfaction of completing short-term items is more immediate than working on items that create impact. Your status goes up when you complete the urgent short-term stuff on your to-do list. It is more visible to others than when you focus on consistent effort on your to-do list of things that will have a large impact on your future. Urgent makes our ego feel better. Making it more difficult for us to focus on things that have an impact.
We must remember it’s always impact that deepens, broadens, and expands our life. Never urgency. Giving us the confidence to endure and persevere for to create impact takes time. Making it worthy of choosing items on your to-do list and equal to all of those items for which you have responsibility.
Making it possible, to change our life in a positive way, by simply changing the priority of the items we choose to spend time on from our to-do list while leaving some items unfinished forever.