If you know anything about me you know that I am a list person. I love a list. In fact for many years I have managed my job responsibilities through a system of lists and notebooks. I also love a notebook. This has been my productivity system. Well, that and my inbox. Any email that needs to be tended to must either be 'popped out' of my inbox or marked as unread. If not I will never remember to respond to it or to address the issues outlined in it. I blame Gmail-induced unread email blindess for this. And when you think about it, unread emails are really their own list. So I've typically got 1-2 physical lists going, plus my inbox list and 2-3 notebooks with notes from meeting, phone calls, conferences etc, all informing me on what I should do next.
But then something bad happened. I started to find myself paralyzed by my own lists. Sometimes I would spend several hours organizing and reorganizing my to-do list only to find that it was time to go home and I hadn't even to-done anything. My lists and notebooks were failing me. They weren't just failing me, they were burying me. I needed a new approach. Finally I remembered something my friend Michelle said to me when we were on a business trip together and she was working and I was making lists. She said they she'd found that she had to just skip the list and actually do things if she wanted to get anything done.
This concept made me pretty nervous when she told me about it initially. Pssshhaw I thought to myself. How will you know what you've done if you don't have a list? I mean, right? But after a few days of hardly accomplishing anything besides managing my productivity management system I decided it was time to reassess the situation. One morning, I poured myself a big cup of courage-inducing coffee and just starting answering emails. To assuage my obsessive need for note-taking, I allowed myself to make note of what I was accomplishing as I was moving forward but not to make a note of something to do later. Instead I forced myself to do right then the things that I was about to write down to do later.
At the end of the day I was amazed at how much I had accomplished. I was chagrinned even at what a crutch my lists had become for me. A way to put-off doing things without feeling like I was putting things off. I'd tricked myself into guilt-free procrastination without even knowing it. And while I constantly have to fight my ingrained list-creation-response, I find that I have never been more productive than when I am actually doing things rather than writing about doing things. Who would have thought.