One Word for Committing to a Task without the Guilt

How to change your mind later and keep your integrity

The best definition I’ve heard of character is “the ability to carry out a worthy decision after the emotion of making that decision has passed” (Hyrum W. Smith). It’s doing what you say you’re going to do.

When you put a task on your list, you’re making a commitment, either to yourself or to someone else, that you’re going to do something. I used to struggle with this, feeling that the only way a task could come off my list was by doing it. Otherwise, I was breaking the commitment.

If you’re like me, this can cause problems for your productivity. You want to write everything down so it can stop swimming around your head, but you don’t want to write anything down until you’re certain you want to commit to doing it.

Fortunately, there is a word that can help you escape from this trap, remember the commitments you’ve made, and enjoy life.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockPhoto/3sbworld

Consider.

That’s all it takes. If you aren’t sure whether you want to do a task, change the nature of the task.

Let’s say you’ve heard great things about Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. A lot of people have really great things to say about it, and you think you might want to pick up a copy, but you aren’t sure.

Instead of putting “buy Essentialism” on your task list, put “consider buying Essentialism” instead. This does two things:

  1. It separates the idea from the commitment. Now you can write it down to remember it and stop thinking about it without feeling obligated to do it. When the task comes up, consider it. Look into it. Reevaluate it. If you still want to do it, do it.
  2. It provides closure. If you decide not to do it, you still get to check off the task. You’ve kept your commitment: you considered it. There’s no need to keep around a task that you’re never going to do. You considered it and decided against it. Time to move on.

Another option is to keep a Someday/Maybe list. There isn’t a single commitment on this list, just ideas. Things you might want to do someday. Maybe. This should be a separate list so that these ideas don’t get mixed up the tasks that are on your list. (If you use OmniFocus, create a Single-Action List and put it on Hold so its contents aren’t considered Available.)

Eventually, you will get more comfortable with the idea that tasks can come off without being completed, and you won’t need to use consider any more. You can delete tasks at any time. You can renegotiate commitments with yourself at any time. (You can renegotiate commitments to someone else, too, just be sure you do so.)

And you really should read Essentialism. It’s a great book.

Question: Do you ever feel trapped by your task list? How do you escape? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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