Finding the right race

Being first is not the only way to win. The cost of crossing the finish line first sometimes outweighs the prize you get for winning. The second mouse to reach the trap gets the cheese and gets to search for more tomorrow. All but the slowest runner in the group escapes the bear.

Apple didn’t make the first computer, MP3 player, or Smartphone. Amazon didn’t invent the bookstore. They didn’t win by trying to finish first.

Finishing second (or later) means you can see the finish line and what prizes await those who finish. Coming in second lets you decide in advance if the rewards are worth the effort or if you should start running a different race.

Delete guilt tasks

A few items on my personal to-do list had lingered, untouched, for more than a month.

I just deleted them.

Those tasks did nothing but make me feel bad about what I had yet to start doing. They were guilt tasks. Maybe, now that they’re gone, I’ll be able to work on them again.

You don’t need guilt from your to-do list. You need encouragement. That encouragement often comes from the checked off items. That’s why I typically write things I’ve already finished on my list, just so I can check them off. I recently discovered doing that isn’t odd.

So what are some of the signs of a guilt task? A guilt task is any task that:

  • has stayed on your to-do list for more than a week with no action
  • you’ve kept updating the due date without any progress toward completion
  • obviously doesn’t need to be completed (if it did it would be done)
  • is not a priority (although it’s taking up mental priority)
  • you have a mental block towards that task that’s kept you from starting

Rewarding tasks get done, because you see the payoff, feel the positive feedback that accompanies checking the item off the list. Guilt tasks offer very little in terms of reward, even when completed. Finishing a guilt task is seldom a relief. If anything, checking it off the list will just make you feel guilty about how long it took you to get started. They only succeed in making you feel bad about the things you’re not doing.

But guess what…there’s tons of stuff you’re not doing now, you won’t do soon, and you may never do. Feeling bad about all the things you’re not doing doesn’t help you get any closer to finishing the tasks that actually matter to you. Feeling bad about guilt tasks doesn’t help you do the real tasks.

So pull up your to-do list, and delete (or, if you’re not ready for that, archive) everything from your list that is bringing you down or that you will not start in the next week.

Systems > Goals

Striving after goals means failing every day until you succeeds. Living a system means succeeding every day, building on the momentum of earlier successes, and living with a more positive sense of self. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, recently wrote:

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.

Consistency and reliability are so much more valuable than accomplishing one-off goals, even big ones. That’s why I intend to start focusing on creating positive systems instead of chasing goals. I’m less interested in being the person who finished a marathon that one time than I am in being the person that runs every day, no matter the weather or circumstances—not that I’m a runner. Religiously followed systems will lead to successes with a firmer foundation than periodically accomplishing a goal.

Rather than expecting an overnight success by reaching a goal, focus on consistently doing the small, atomic actions that the person you want to become does every day. Soon enough, the rewards of that kind of effort will become clear.

Inbox Whack-a-Mole

Maintaining inbox zero is like a game of whack-a-mole. For every email deleted, organized, or responded to, another one pops up in its place. However, that only happens if your email is always open. By just opening up email and responding to it at set times during the day, you can process messages in batches and be much more productive. When you finish, close your email, and get to work.

I don’t have to check email as much these days as I have in the past, but I check it anyway if it’s open. I check it even when there’s nothing new in there. Ideally, there could be a notification when the inbox has 10 new items, or email could launch automatically two hours from the time I closed it.

Attention is the most valuable and limited resource

Attention is the most valuable and limited resource

The Anti-Todo List

The Anti-Todo List

Wasting time at work

Wasting time at work