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Playing Through The Tape: Linking Actions To Life Goals

Playing Through The Tape: Linking Actions To Life Goals
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    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.

      More by this author

      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 July 21, 2021

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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      No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

      Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

      Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

      A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

      Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

      In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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      From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

      A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

      For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

      This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

      The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

      That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

      Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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      The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

      Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

      But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

      The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

      The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

      A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

      For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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      But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

      If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

      For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

      These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

      For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

      How to Make a Reminder Works for You

      Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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      Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

      Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

      My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

      Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

      I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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      Reference

      [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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