Here’s a picture of my desk. It’s got ZERO papers on it. If I’m working on something I’ll put that ONE thing on the desk. Then put it away when I’m done, or when I’m interrupted. This concept is new to me (as anyone who’s seen my desk can attest). We’ll have to see how long it lasts, but I’m liking the way that it feels. I’m more focused and feel I have more choice in what I should be working on. And those nagging projects that I needed to do but didn’t want to get started on? It’s harder to ignore them.
Look below for a view of what it used to look like:
And that blank stare you see? The clutter made it hard to focus. But when there’s nothing on my desk I have to decide what’s the most important thing to work on now. I can’t fool myself into thinking I’m doing something important when I’m working on what’s merely urgent (or worse!). When there’s only one thing on my desk I know what I have to work on. When there’s two things on the desk (or more) I’m distracted.
You may also be able to see I’ve got ZERO emails in my inbox (the monitor on the left). I realized I was using it as a holding tank and doing so was cluttering up my mind. I’m using gmail so I just selected them all and archived them. That way I can find them with search if I need to, but if I don’t ever need them then I don’t need them. As mail comes in I’ll check periodically and empty the box every time. I’ve never been a huge fan of labels (folders) for email but I’m starting to find them useful. I now have one called “later” for stuff I want out of my inbox but don’t want to take the time for now.
A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Clutter
You do realize that multi-tasking is a myth don’t you? You can’t really do two things at once, you just flip from one to the other in very small bits. Like talking to someone on the phone while you’re having a different conversation with someone in the room. You don’t really hear them both at the same time. You just ignore parts of each conversation that (hopefully) you can infer when you switch back.
I’m trying to be more conscious about what I work on – meaning I’m deciding based on what’s important not what’s urgent (or distracting) unless I decide distraction is important for the time. It’s similar to the GTD process of emptying your inbox on a regular basis.
Applying this to a TODO list
I’ve started using Asana for my TODO / Project list. I like it because I can assign tasks to projects and see them that way. But in another view I can see all my tasks in a single list (called your inbox) This needs to be emptied regularly as well. The way Asana prioritizes tasks, you go to your inbox, and decide when you’re going to work on each task. You can assign it to TODAY, Upcoming or Later. I realized that the reason I kept so many things in my in box is I didn’t want to forget about them. The “Later” category is great for that. I can keep my Today list clean and not loose those wonderful ideas that I love (which often turn out to be not so great but that’s a post for another day).
It’s kind of like the concept of a WILL-DO list rather than a TODO list.
It’s devolved into a productivity discussion – which isn’t bad – but that’s not the bigger thought that inspired me to write. The bigger thought is
The difference between zero and one is huge!
Much bigger than the difference between one and two or even one and one hundred. You see this in lots of arenas. When a startup goes from zero sales to one – it becomes a company instead of just a prototype factory. That’s why so many small shops stick the first dollar on the wall. They don’t do that with the 2nd or the tenth or even the millionth dollar.
Zero mistakes is a great place to be. So is zero late shipments. Factories post how many days they’ve gone with zero injuries – not how many days since they’ve had one.
And the difference makes the one important as well. The only one is much more important than the best of two.
I’m not sure what’s the best takeaway for this post. But it’s a new year. A year I hope will be marked by a one followed by lots of zeros in my bank account. Maybe starting with zero things on my desk and in my inbox will help.