It happens. Your job list gets so out of control that job list zero is the only answer.
We’ve all heard of inbox zero. Let me introduce job list zero.
It started out with a really busy few months. Lots of things to fit in every day and not enough time to do everything, particularly recurring tasks. I use Microsoft To Do to keep track of these things that need to be done over and over again. The kind Gretchin Rubin would call boomerang tasks. It was formerly known as Wunderlist and is how I manage to keep track of what sometimes feels like hundreds of moving parts.
I don’t love To Do quite as much as Wunderslist. They’ve added a ‘My Day’ section that you can manually add tasks to. It would be great if that section showed scheduled tasks for the day. However, there is no way to have the tasks I haven’t completed and the tasks which are scheduled to reoccur on that day to automatically appear there. Digression ends.
So in a nutshell, I got behind. I didn’t do the tasks on the day they were scheduled and attempts to change that just resulted in more undone tasks. In the past, I’d take a day and do a big catch-up blitz but when I looked at the number of tasks I felt overwhelmed.
I was failing in other areas too. My genius plan had been to do speedy sweeps through my multiple inboxes during the week. Anything really urgent would be dealt with straight away. At weekends I would read anything that was more detailed or less urgent. It’s still a good plan if I do those vital weekend follow-ups.
They weren’t happening.
After failing to renew some insurance and a few other embarrassments, it was time for me to come up with a way to clean up the mess which was growing with every passing day.
Here’s what I did to get myself back on track and try to avoid future task overload.
Job list zero
I did actually start out trying to deal with the outstanding tasks and did a few. But I hadn’t counted on these being recurring tasks. Every time I did one it would reappear further down the task list because I was so behind. As I was looking at the 83 items on my list and wondering where to start, I had a radical thought.
It occurred to me that these tasks were all going to all pop up on another scheduled date in the near future. That meant I could probably delete the current iteration and just make sure that I dealt with it when it came up. So I went through and deleted any recurring task that wasn’t essential immediately. That felt a lot better. Like I’d given myself a clean slate.
My daily inbox clear was taking ages. one of the culprits was all the newsletters that I’d subscribed to. It’s an easy habit to fall into when you’re busy. You come across something interesting online but you don’t have time to read it right away. So you sign up for their updates to remind you.
The action of signing up makes you feel like you are doing something. But then you never actually read what they send you. I’d taken two approaches to these kinds of emails. I’d either delete and promise myself that I’d read the next one or I’d fill them in a folder for later reading (which probably wouldn’t happen).
Buoyed up by the joy of deleting my job list I took a more radical approach the next time I went through my inbox. If I was tempted to delete an email without reading it I unsubscribed instead.
I think I probably still have things that I need to unsubscribe from! But my inbox is now much less cluttered. This means that I do actually deal with important stuff right away. So my weekend inbox tidy has become super easy.
Do the task on the day
I used to look at the tasks in To Do at a random point in the day and if they seemed easy I’d put them off. I know; it sounds like a weird kind of procrastination. Things like removed archived emails, descaling the kettle and downloading a bank statement would often get put off for another day. I’d justify it in all kinds of ways. That it would be better to do them in the morning or batch them with something else.
Now I consider if they are a task I need to keep doing. If the answer is yes then I remind myself that future me is going to be really grateful that I just got on with it.
There are a few tasks I’ve wanted to do but realised that they are too big so taking advice from GTD I’ve broken them down into smaller, more achievable, tasks.
Beyond job list zero
This new approach is certainly helping me to be more organised and feel less overwhelmed by all the things I need to fit in. And that means less procrastination and more time to do the stuff I really want to.
Will it have a long-lasting effect? That’s a really good question. I’m trying to maintain momentum and pay attention to what I’m doing rather than just gliding through on autopilot. There are too many cool things to do for me to waste time on unnecessary stuff so keeping a questioning approach is proving to be key.
And I am adding two new questions to my month-end reviews: Am I keeping up with my task list? Is my approach to organisation still working? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes then I’ll have the fun of trying a new approach.