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« Blog Posting Time | Main | A Variation on My Current No-List System »

Doing Everything?

There’s a well-known saying, which I’ve quoted myself on many occasions, which runs “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”.

Recently I’ve been wondering whether it’s true. Not the bit about being able to do anything but the bit about not being able to do everything.

Obviously no one person can literally do everything, but no one wants to do everything in that sense. What people want to be able to do is everything that they want to do.

Looking at the popularity of books with titles like “1000 [Things to Do] Before You Die”, it seems that a lot of people would very much like to be able to do a whole lot more than they are doing at the moment. And they want to do things which would be meaningful to them.

Perhaps we don’t need “Someday/Maybe” lists but “Now/Definitely” lists.

The reason I’ve been wondering about it is my experience with no-list methods. Rather than feeling overwhelmed with work as one tends to be with a “catch-all” list, I’ve recently caught myself thinking “I could do everything!” I’ve also noticed that my reaction speed to things that I want to do but which involve quite a challenge is much faster than it used to be.

More on this tomorrow.

Reader Comments (9)

I like where you are headed with this. I've been trying to work with catch all lists for a long time. Failing, using no system, and then trying something else or returning to failed systems thinking there was something wrong with me. I found your blog recently and have been more willing to experiment with "no list" modified as I play with discovering what works for me. Thanks for the inspiration to experiment with creating a system that works for me, rather than trying to find the right system out there.

Part of what I've been coming to terms with is that there are a lot of things I like to think about doing, and many things that I clearly don't want to do or complete enough to take any action with them.

One of the issues I have with catch all systems is that I am repeatedly catching the same things because I don't remember if I've already written them down. And as that list gets longer and longer it becomes harder to review to see if an item is there. I'm just realizing that I could give up the perfectionist and just enter an item every time that I think of it. But, that would make the list appear even more overwhelming! If I move it from the "catch all" to the action items when I'm ready to do it, then isn't that almost like "no list?" Instead of trying to manage a "catch all" list, I just let it float through my thoughts. Savor it for a moment. And if I'm not really going to do it, let if float by like the clouds. No need to write it down and create this mountain of maybes to manage or ignore.
May 12, 2016 at 3:18 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
All questions regarding doing of tasks can only have three answers: yes, no, and maybe. And yes, "someday" and "later" are all "maybe" because they can either be done or abandoned.

I think it becomes easier to say "yes" to the important things when you practice the power to say "no" to the not-important things. This seems to be the reason why "no-list" systems work, and this is what I can see in the system that I am using,

On the other hand, I think the reason why "catch-all" systems fail is because most of the items there remain too long in "maybe".

And yet I do not think "maybe" has no value whatsoever. We do after all need to be able to plan and consider the tasks first.
May 12, 2016 at 6:07 | Registered Commenternuntym
Since using no-list methods, I have often had days when I feel like I have done everything, and that there is nothing else I need to do. That is a great feeling in some ways, but scary too. Sometimes the idea appears that I will _never_ have anything else to do. Which is odd, because before no-list I was always scared of having so much to do. So when everything is done in a day, I can truly relax and kick back, guilt-free. It is a totally different way of being.
May 12, 2016 at 9:27 | Registered CommenterWooba

<< And yet I do not think "maybe" has no value whatsoever. We do after all need to be able to plan and consider the tasks first. >>

I think it's a matter of gradual accretion. I find no-list results in a fairly standard list of things I've worked on each day - the well-trodden pathways of the mind. And as I get on top of these subjects I find that I've got more capacity. That leads me to work on a few more things and some of those will "stick".

Most of the time this copes quite happily with emergencies and the like because they usually fall within the existing things I'm working on. Sometimes of course that pattern will get disrupted and sometimes that disruption will result in new stuff being adopted for regular work.
May 12, 2016 at 11:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Steven, is there a reason you don't want duplicates in your catch-all list? I find it helps.

My go-to system (the one I drift to when not trying to use something else) is a single book that combines catch-all, daily and weekly plans, and notes. My list of possible goals for the day or week is a mix of old and new. Sometimes when busy with something else, thoughts about the delayed task interfere, so I write them down. Or I'll get serious about a project and write all the tasks on the same page and try to get a handle on it. Sometimes, even without intending to, I write it slightly differently, or in a different context, which gives me a new perspective on it.

Every week or so I review the entire book. Sometimes I get to cross off several lines for a single (much-delayed) task.Very rewarding.

Writing the same thing several times can be a sign that it needs more thinking. Maybe it's time to get the bleeping thing done, or change it, or delete it. Sometimes I don't even realize how much it's weighing on my mind until I see how often I entered it.
May 16, 2016 at 19:02 | Registered CommenterCricket
My catch-all isn't a mountain of things I must do. It's a safety net. Some (most?) of the things in it really weren't worth catching (regardless of what I thought at the time). I usually review the entire thing weekly, and copy the urgent ones to the week list. That way, I don't have to review it daily. I also date each page. If a task is on a really old page, that means I need to think more carefully about the value of the task.

Also, many things that are on catch-all lists don't need to be. Every time I look out the windows, I see they need cleaning, and I'd be happier seeing the spring flowers through clean windows. Every time I open the shed, I see it needs tidying, but also remember that I can get the lawn mower out just fine. I'll tidy each area as I need something from it.
May 16, 2016 at 19:10 | Registered CommenterCricket
Prior to writing my comment, I had the idea that my 'catch all' list should be clean and organized, meaning that I would never be able to manage everything on the list, if the same thing kept appearing, especially if the wording was slightly different. It seem that the cognitive processing of such a list would have driven me crazy. As I wrote my comment I realized that there could be other ways of relating to multiple entries of the same item. Including just ignoring or removing the duplicates when discovering them.

I saw your points about multiple occurrences in a catch all. If it keeps coming up, then there is something to do about it. Either actually do it, or do whatever it takes to move it out of a sense of incompletion. I also realized that if the item was on the list multiple times, and I was actually working and reviewing that list, each time I came across the already completed item, I could let that be a reward moment, where I win because it's already done.

I've never gotten very far with a catch all. And I've not been reliable for any sort of regular review of said list. Discovering the "no list" system here, (I've seen and attempted some sorts of versions of it prior) and the way it was presented, really made sense.

I had already been practicing trusting my intuition in the moment, even when looking out into the future. Bringing a more intentional "no list" system to what I do gives me a place to start from in developing what will really work for me. And seeing how much Mark experiments and changes what he is doing helps me see that it's OK that I don't try to find and force myself into the (unattainable) perfect system.
May 18, 2016 at 2:23 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
I think I fooled myself into thinking I was using a no-list for a bit, with a catch-all as a primer. I need that safety net! I notice that this week I'm feeding from the catch-all more, but for a while I was trusting my intuition more.

I seem to have a cycle. I'll go off list for a bit, maybe a variation on no-list, but then go back to a catch-all with shorter day lists. The break from the big list is nice, and when I go back I do things slightly differently. (I now copy from big list to day list, sometimes a week list in the middle, then from day list to current (which looks similar to 5T).

At this instant, I'm closer to no-list, with the restriction that it's computer-related. I know what I need to do, and also need some freedom. In another hour or two, I'll check my day list again and pick a few different things to focus on.
May 19, 2016 at 21:14 | Registered CommenterCricket
Why so many lists? My catch-all is long and messy. It takes a few minutes to check each time. My week list has just what I want to do this week. Takes only a minute to check, and is complete. However, it still has distractions, things I want to do later, not today, but need to be aware of, especially if the week starts light and ends with lots of meetings. My day list is even shorter. Just what I want to do today.

My Now list is super-short, almost a diary. I want to focus on 1 to 5 things, nothing else. Often it's "I'm done 2,3,4 and 5, time for a break. Except what about 1? Why haven't I done it? Probably not a good reason. Get the bleeping thing done."
May 19, 2016 at 21:34 | Registered CommenterCricket

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