When Good Tasks Go Bad

Everything has an expiration date.

Go take a look in your fridge.

What do you see? Be sure to look at the things that are always there—things that you’ve trained yourself to look right past when you’re looking for a snack.

There’s yogurt you just picked up at the store, leftovers from the last few nights (or longer), and condiments that were picked up before the last presidential election. Your freezer probably goes back even farther.

Each of these came into the fridge with hope and excitement, full of possibility and potential. Then you went to the store again. New food, new leftovers, and a new bottle of French’s yellow mustard. What was already in there got pushed to the back and forgotten about.

The same thing is happening on your task list. Especially if it’s digital.

©iStockphoto/michaklootwijk

For some reason, we have a hard time with eliminating tasks from our list. Every task must be important for us to do, or we would never have put it on our list, right? So we slog away, trying to work through a list that is ever larger and harder to manage.

Tasks expire, just like anything in your fridge. It was relevant once, but not now. You missed the deadline. You don’t have as much free time now. It’s not important to you now. If you’re honest with yourself, it probably never was.

A task on your list is not a permanent commitment. It’s just something you want to remember later. You can renegotiate the commitment at any time, especially if it’s just with yourself.

Review your lists regularly. Ask yourself:

  • Is this still relevant?
  • Is this still important to me?
  • Is this a direction I want to take my life?
  • If I knew then what I know now, would I have ever committed to this?

You can do this as part of your weekly review, daily review, annual goal-setting… whenever. Anytime you feel yourself wincing when you see a task, ask yourself if you’ll be happier if you never see that task again.

There is a weight to carrying around tasks you’re never going to do. They get in the way of what’s important. They hide the meaning and importance of other tasks. Their psychic pain makes you want to stop checking your lists—and planning—altogether.

Give tasks an expiration date. “If I haven’t done this in the next month, I’m not going to do it.” If it’s really a priority, it will get done. After a month, either do it or delete it. Don’t let it languish, pretending that you might get to it someday.

Learn to let go of tasks. If it’s not important to you anymore, make room for something that is. Fill your bucket with things you enjoy.

Do the same with your fridge.

Question: How do you decide to not do something you previously said you would and still maintain your integrity? 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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