I’m a busy person and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m only able to keep track of all of the stuff I need to get done and all of the projects I need to work on by externalizing them as much as possible. I jot down ideas and tasks as they come to mind and spend a bit of time each day organizing those jottings into something useful.
Most weekends, I spend an hour or two going through things left undone, re-evaluating projects, and figuring out what kind of things I want to accomplish in the next week.
It’s that last part that’s actually trickier than you might think.
From my perspective, every task a person might take on falls into one of four areas. All tasks are either important or not important, and they’re also urgent or not urgent.
So, a given task might be important and urgent (those tasks get done quickly), while other tasks might be neither important nor urgent (those tasks generally get ignored).
It is those other two groups that become tricky.
We have urgent tasks that aren’t really important that pop up all the time. The vast majority of emails we receive and respond to fall into this group. Almost every phone call and text message is the same thing. Most of the websites we check? Urgent… but not really important.
On the flip side are tasks that are important but not urgent. Things in this category include preparing a will, setting up a life insurance policy, writing a letter to someone you care deeply about, and so on.
Obviously, the important-but-not-urgent tasks should be placed far ahead of the urgent-but-not-important tasks… but those urgent-but-not-important tasks often shout at us with their urgency! The phone rings! The email program beeps! The need for information screams in our psyche!
My solution to this conundrum is to always have a nice, healthy list of important-but-not-urgent tasks around at all times. A checklist of truly important things motivates me to get them finished, mostly because knocking off a list of important things that really need to be taken care of just feels really good (aside from the fact of actually taking care of these important things).
Another tricky thing about important-but-not-urgent tasks is that they tend to be forgotten or mentally pushed to the side. Urgent things tend to shout more, so we often just don’t think about those important-but-not-urgent things.
So, on a given weekend, I’m often trying to make sure I have a healthy list of those important-but-not-urgent things to fill up the week with.
The solution to that problem is triggers.
I try to think of the important things in my life and use them to help me think of the important things that I need to take care of.
On the first pass, this is really easy. I just think of the important people in my life, my personal passions, and my major possessions. This usually gives me several items for the list.
However, that tends to leave out quite a few of the truly important but still not too urgent things.
For those, I find a great deal of success focusing on life events.
For example, I try to visualize what might happen in my life if I were to pass away tomorrow. What would I deeply regret not having done for my family if a meteor dropped from the sky tomorrow morning?
What if Sarah passed away suddenly? What if our home burnt to the ground? What if my parents passed away suddenly?
What could I do this week that would make those events go more smoothly? What could I do this week to take care of things I would deeply regret not having done if those events were to pass?
Thinking ahead about potential life events is a powerful way to uncover tasks of all kinds that you really need to take care of. Life insurance. Health insurance. A will. Secure storage of key belongings. Personal things as well, such as a phone call or a letter.
Spend some time this week thinking about what would happen if some of these events would transpire in your life in the near future. What would you regret not having done? What can you do right now to take care of that potential regret?
You’ll be extremely glad you did it. Not just because it eliminates that potential deep regret, but because almost everything you come up with is something that truly needs to be taken care of in your life.