The Git-R-Done Mentality
Using a task list requires you to make some basic assumptions, especially if you use some of the more common approaches to productivity. If you’ve got something you need to do, you have to put it on the list. If something’s on the list, you’ve got to put forth effort to get it crossed off of that same list. The whole system is built on a mentality that you’re going to go out and get it done. It’s an approach that generally works, too. It’s great if you need to go out and run errands — write down each place you need to stop, so you won’t wind up back at home and then realize you’ve forgotten a step.
But the get it done mentality is not a universal solution. In fact, it’s just like the hammer of productivity: great when you need to bang a nail into a wall and even when you need to pull it back out again. The moment you’ve got a screw, though…
With comedians (as well as many other creatives that have to come up with new material on a regular basis), you see certain formulas. Larry the Cable Guy has a set of formulas that most of his jokes follow — while it’s a little better than picking a topic from column A and a format from column B, his fans know what they’re going to hear any time they go to one of his shows, even if he’s rolling out new material. At the very least, after all, he’s going to punctuate a couple of sentences with “Git-r-done!”
But the moment a creative steps outside of that formula, it becomes much harder to schedule and plan your next steps.
The secret to a good task list is to break down projects into steps you can do in a few minutes. But how do you break down ‘Find a way to get the characters in my novel from chapter 3 to chapter 4′ or ‘Find the perfect color combination for my new painting’? Sure, you can add those sorts of tasks to your to-do list, but they won’t behave like other tasks.
Schedule them for this afternoon and you can easily find that by the end of the day you’re only part way through the problem. So, you push back the due date until tomorrow. You make some more progress tomorrow, but you’re still not done. Getting that task done and marked off seems nearly impossible.
It can get out of hand, too: when I first started using a system created by someone else, I couldn’t figure out how to fit many of the things I do in the normal course of my work day into the system. There was this feeling that I needed to set up tasks so I could prepare for what amounted to a project in the eyes of this system — perhaps a 1,000-word article. Here’s the problem, though: sure, I could add a task to do the research I needed ahead of time. More often than not, though, as I write, I discover new research I need to do. I can’t fully prepare to write an article until I’m half-way through it. I have to act as if the article is a task instead of a project to be able to really get everything done.
That issue goes along with the way I personally write. There are some writers who can outline, research and write as distinct tasks. But every creative seems to run up against the idea that we must get everything done every once in a while.
The Underlying Problem
We need time away from the task list mentality. We need time when we can work on our projects without having to check off a box to mark that we’re done. Even more so, we need opportunities to learn that aren’t subject to some particular project. All through our creative lives, designers have to keep looking at new designs. Writers need to keep talking to new people. Photographers need to experiment with their cameras. Even salesmen and women need a chance to get out there and play with other products. We all need a diversity of experience in order to move forward and that’s something that can’t be scheduled.
Recharging our batteries, brainstorming, learning — no matter what you need to do to continue to move forward with your work, it’s absolutely necessary to take a regular vacation from the git-r-done mentality. Break out of the formulas you’ve built. Don’t make check boxes for projects that may not be done this week, or next, or ever.
Image by Flickr user Joe in DC
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