Do you need to be doing this right now?
I don’t mean reading this article. Of course, you need to be doing that. Everybody should be doing that. Tell your friends.
I mean all the things you do all day, every day. Do you need to be doing that right now?
Ask yourself this often. Really put some thought into it.
In our pursuit to be productive, we love to make lists. Lists of things that need to be done so we can check them off. It feels good to check those things off. It’s fulfilling. It makes us feel good about ourselves.
But how many of them are necessary?
I’m not saying they’re not. I’m just saying you need to ask yourself that before you do each one. A lot of things we end up doing by rote. We do them today because we did them yesterday. They’re on our checklist. So we do them and check them off.
Well, here’s something even more productive than checking off an item. Deleting them forever. Never doing them again. Because you really don’t need to be doing them.
Maybe you did at one time. You put that thing on your list to do every day or every week because you needed to make sure you did it. Now you are doing it, not because it needs to be done, but because it’s on the list. You no longer think about it; you just do it. Check!
I just got rid of a few of those. And for a bunch more, I changed the period. Some daily tasks went to every other day; some went to weekly. I had some weekly tasks that I moved to monthly. They’re still getting done as often as they need to, but I just cleared up an hour from my day.
Here’s an example. I have a program that backs up all of my files to an external drive every night. Another program backs up all of my drives to the cloud every night. And I checked those backups every morning. Backing them up daily is a good thing. Checking the backup every day is a waste of time. It’s worked every day for years. It’s probably going to work tomorrow. So now, I check them weekly. The worst-case scenario is that one of those backups is a week old instead of a day old. And I saved 10 minutes a day by not doing it.
Here’s one you are going to love. Take a look at all the meetings you attend, especially those that you host or chair. Are they all necessary, or are they just because they’ve always been held? Do they need to be held as often as they are? Could some of them be combined? Could some of them be eliminated? A daily status meeting on a project that takes a week is necessary. A daily status meeting on a project that takes a year is not.
As you work through your daily task list, stop at each one and think about it. Do this exercise for a month. If I didn’t do this, what would happen? Who would care? If the answer is nothing and nobody, you know what to do. Get rid of it. Maybe make a note to follow up in a week or a month and make sure there were no negative effects of not doing it. How’s that for a double negative?
Most likely, something would happen. Or not. Or somebody would care. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t have gotten on your list to begin with. But does it need to be done every day? Every. Day. How many daily tasks do you just go through the motions, giving it little or no thought? Well, it’s time to give them some thought.
There are other considerations you need to think about for each task besides whether you should be doing them or how often? Are you doing them at the right time? Would it be more efficient to do that thing earlier or later in the day? Are there tasks that can be combined? Checking email comes to mind. If you stop and read every email as soon as it comes in, this article isn’t for you. You need a remedial course. Something more basic.
But even if you only check your email periodically, you could always do so less. It doesn’t take twice as long to check twenty emails as ten. The less often you can do that, the greater the time savings and the less interruptive they will be.
Other tasks should be combined because of the ramp-up and cool-down
time required to do anything. It takes time to start something new, and it takes time to shut it down or put it away. The less you do those things, the greater the time savings.
I have told you in the past about my writing process. How I wrote the rough draft one day, then the first proof the second, another proof on the third, and the final polish on the fourth. There were good reasons for doing it that way, but there was also an excellent reason to stop.
It wasted time. Each task took time to start and finish, apart from the time spent doing it. So now, I take most articles from concept to published or pitched on the same day. It takes less time and is more efficient. My mind is on a single topic from start to finish.
The fact that you keep and use a to-do list is great. Many people don’t. Probably most people don’t. So you are already ahead of the game. But every once in a while, you need to stop and reevaluate each thing on your list. Do you still need to do it? Do you need to do it that often? Can you combine similar tasks, or do five daily tasks as one weekly task?
As you go through your task list today, stop and ask yourself?
Is this something I really need to be doing right now?