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Playing Through The Tape: Linking Actions To Life Goals

Playing Through The Tape: Linking Actions To Life Goals

    Staring at my lists of tasks during my weekly review (about 285 the last time I checked the count in OmniFocus) my eyes start to glaze over with the thought of just how much monotonous crap there is buried in them. What’s even more daunting is as I look over my system during my weekly review I add around 30 – 50 tasks while only destroying about 25 that have gone dormant or have been completed during the week.

    If you have been a GTD or any other type of productivity practitioner over the years, you have at least been in this situation once or twice. What tends to happen when you provide yourself with ubiquitous capture is that after awhile a lot of unimportant tasks may infiltrate their way into your system; unimportant tasks that may have sounded like a good idea at the time, but no longer hold any value, or worse, tasks that you know you should complete because of some agreement with yourself or others. What happens is that your system starts to rot from the inside out, and after seeing an easy task like “call mom” sit on your list for 7 weeks you tell yourself that your system doesn’t work. You aren’t getting anything done.

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    It isn’t your system and it isn’t GTD

    The fact you have tasks in your system that are “uninspiring” and stagnant has nothing to do with how your system is failing you or how GTD just doesn’t work. This is more of a prioritization problem. GTD doesn’t talk about an old school A-B-C, 1-2-3 type of prioritization of tasks and projects but it does speak of how to make sure that important stuff gets paid attention to and the less important stuff moves to the back burner or gets trashed.

    So, please, before you change your tool or give up on GTD completely understand that this idea of “action bloat” has nothing to do with either.

      The link between actions and higher levels

      What I have come to find from reading Mr. Allen’s books as well as learning from my own experiences is that if something in my action list doesn’t sync with what I want to accomplish in my life, the chances of me doing it are pretty slim. What’s even worse is the chances of me not doing it and feeling bad about myself and the state of my system are excellent.

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      So here is where some real “soul searching”, goals, and dreams come into play. if your action lists don’t resemble what you want for your life, then two bad things can happen:

      1. Your action lists stay stagnant and build up with tasks that seem like they have no purpose (because they don’t).
      2. You don’t accomplish any long term goals because your actions lists do not resemble these goals.

      This all sounds good in theory but what about in practice? What about tasks like “take out the trash” or “clean the cat litter”? These don’t seem at all related to a higher purpose or life goal. You will run into a lot of tasks that are like this; daily/weekly/monthly tasks that seem like they are just a nuisance and don’t prove to be anything important.

      All you have to do to make sure that a task on your action list links up to life goals is “play through the tape”.

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      Play through the tape

      Hopefully everyone reading this still knows what a tape is. Anyways, the best way that I have found to make sure that your tasks on your action lists are important is by “playing through the tape” of what this action will accomplish.

      Here is an example:

      • Action: Call your mom
      • Why? Because you haven’t talked to her for awhile.
      • Why does that matter? You want to make sure that you stay close to your family.
      • Why? Because your family and family life is something that is important to you and you value it.

      Seems excessive I know, and maybe calling your mother isn’t the best example, but this little exercise can be applied to any task that is on your lists or even projects as well.

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      Here is the kicker. If you can’t “play through the tape” with a task and link it to some goal or important aspect of your life, put the task or project on your someday/maybe list or just get rid of it. If it isn’t that important there is no reason to do it, especially when you have 250 other actions that actually are important.

      As time moves on you will start to find tasks that don’t belong at all in your system and you will be able to inherently “play through the tape”. You will start to see what is important and what isn’t in your task lists and with that be able to prune and tweak your lists to match your life goals. Make sure that you try this out, especially if there is some tasks on your lists that make you think that your system is broken or GTD isn’t working for you.

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      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on March 23, 2021

      Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

      Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

      One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

      The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

      You need more than time management. You need energy management

      1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

      How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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      I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

      I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

      2. Determine your “peak hours”

      Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

      Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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      My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

      In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

      Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

      3. Block those high-energy hours

      Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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      Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

      If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

      That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

      There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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      Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

      Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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