Knowing what you are NOT doing

deferredYesterday I had a meeting with one of my business associates, who is a major investor in one of my companies. We reviewed the current state of the operational planning and, as always he mentioned that I seem to have a lot on my plate. The amount of management tasks and goals I have to manage and in many cases perform seemed a lot to him. He knows I’m doing GTD and that it works for me, but he still doesn’t fully grasp why or how that actually works for me.

Then it hit me. As most people do, he keeps looking at ‘everything that has to be done’. And of course when you look at the bulk of it, it actually is a lot. Such a large amount of work, to be performed in what seems a pretty limited amount of time, has an incapacitating effect on most people. If I would look at it that way it might stop me in my tracks as well. So why is it that it doesn’t have that effect on me?

The solution is a GTD thing: Know what you are NOT doing. This seems counter intuitive, as that seems to suggest that you are actively thinking about the things you are NOT working on, and that is exactly the problem we need to solve; we don’t want to keep thinking about the things we are not doing. What it actually means is that you have to decide, consciously, what you will NOT be doing for the next period of hours or even days. In GTD we use the daily and weekly reviews to execute this process. Making the conscious decision to defer certain tasks in favor of (more important) tasks, alleviate you from the constant burden of thinking about the things you should be doing (somehow) but are not doing now because other things get precedence.

Deferring tasks to a later moment has always been seen as a bad thing. You shouldn’t postpone things, do them NOW! The problem is that with the high workloads that knowledge workers have today, too many things should (seemingly) be done right away. Deferring work consciously clears your brain to work on the chosen task much more efficiently. Deferring work is a MAJOR tool in efficient personal time management.

Other techniques, like the Pomodoro method, can help you to focus even more on the task at hand. But that only works if you get the other stuff out of the way first. There is also the DIT method which simply states that any new incoming work should be deferred to (at least) tomorrow, to keep your current schedule under control. DIT won’t work for me because I have to deal with sudden situations like client emergencies and DIT doesn’t cater well for projects, but DIT does illustrate nicely how deferring things can make you more efficient.

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