Avoidance is not a productivity tool

Photo courtesy of Kelli S (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kelli S (Creative Commons)

One thing I have noticed over the past few weeks, is how much better I can focus when there’s less clutter on my desk as well as in my mind. The craziness of the holiday season took its toll on my state of organization and it made it more difficult to deal with even simple things.

I found myself making list after list as a temporary relief of the overload, and yet I would then push the list aside and go back to the loudest (not necessarily the more urgent) tasks and forget the list. The next day, I’d start a new list – so at the end of the week, I might have the same task on 3 or 4 lists.

Then there’s the inbox – because I had not taken a moment to define what needed to be done on anything, the inbox just kept piling up and when I’d look at an item, it would just be too much to think about and I’d toss it back in the pile. Avoidance makes it worse.

Before long, the stacks of papers, the heaps of scribbled notes, the hundreds of emails made me feel like I was slumped down from the sheer weight of it all on my shoulders. Something had to give.

The first thing I needed to do is to stop.  I realized that I was making everything much worse by continuing to try to dig out, when in fact, I was digging in.

I decided to do two main things: change my habits and use my tools.

My habit had become to look at incoming “stuff” – whether that was an email, mail, task, whatever – think “oh, I can’t think about this right now” and put it aside. That’s fine when you only have a few emails or papers in the inbox, but multiply that by hundreds and it is overwhelming. That also leads to either deleting something important, or missing something that needed to be done.

Hand in hand with that were my tools. I had tools to make things easier – I just wasn’t using them. For instance, I use Nozbe as a task management tool. But I hadn’t added anything to my lists or even opened the app in weeks. I also use Evernote to organize my notes, emails and other information. Again, I had not opened the app in way too long.

The funny thing is that with both programs, I am able to forward an email right to it – and even specify what list or notebook it needs to go to. Right on the spot. Yet I was opening and ignoring all those emails and just perpetuating the problems.

The first thing I did to improve was open Nozbe, and start typing in tasks from the list upon list I had on my desk. Just that simple action relieved a great deal of pressure, partly because I realized how many times some things were written down, and partly because I could see that many of those tasks were not urgent or critical, and yet until I did that, they all seemed equally pressing in my mind. Ahhh, a little relief.

Then I tackled my email. I went through the current inbox, and realized how many of those emails I could just delete – I didn’t need to know about all the sales, promotions and end of year “lists.” I also sent a few emails that were important to Evernote or Nozbe, and printed the few that were just waiting to be printed. Ahhh, a little more relief.

I need to make that my habit when the email originally comes in – instead of opening and ignoring it several times before dealing with it. Why touch it so many times?

Open, deal with it, done.

I need to be honest with myself as to what I will actually read. I get tons of blogs that are all very well written and contain wonderful information. However, I have only a limited time to read said blogs (or listen to podcasts) and instead of putting them all aside to read later – I need to be brutally honest when I open it the first time whether I will read it or not. And in most cases, read it right then or delete it.

New habit. Bam!

And so it went, whittling down the electronic piles, and then tackling the paper piles. Before I knew it, I had an empty email inbox to go along with the empty inbox on my desk. I had organized lists in Nozbe in categories such as Urgent Tasks, Personal Tasks and Work Tasks, so I could review each one within a context of my mental and physical energy levels. And what a great feeling to check something off and see those lists getting smaller!

Most importantly, I had defined the new habits I needed to practice, and already felt the reward of relief due to the new habits. Definitely incentive to keep practicing.

3 thoughts on “Avoidance is not a productivity tool

  1. I plan on working on this myself. I started reading GTD a while ago, but I need to get going on clearing my clutter and defining my “inbox.” Evernote is going to be part of my solution, for sure.

    • Joshua – GTD is awesome! When I stick with it that is. It feels incredible when I get myself together, but then if I don’t stick with it, everything falls apart. I’d love to compare notes as you put your systems in place.

  2. For implementing GTD you can use this web-application:

    GTD Agenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

Comments are closed.