You have a thing you need to do. So you put the thing on a list. The list is where you put the things. What things? The things you need to do. This is a thing so it belongs there.
But this thing will stay there on the list — forever if you let it. To get removed from the “Things I Need To Do” list and get placed on the “Things I have Done” list, a crucial question needs to get answered. This thing will stay there indefinitely until you decide when this thing will get done. And, if you never decide when the thing will get done the thing will never get done. And, you will decide that when. You may not decide it until the moment you do the thing. But, in advance or not, in order to do the thing you must pick a when.
Everything — EVERY THING — happens within the boundaries of time. Even if you don’t decide the time up front, even if you don’t schedule the time, the thing gets done at a time or not at all. And, when it comes to things, capturing is not committing. Capturing is parking. Capturing is waiting. Capturing is wishing. Deciding the when — scheduling the time — is committing. Doing the thing, is completing.
So, the thing — the one on the list — is going to happen at a time. It is the only way it can happen. It is the only way anything happens.
Let’s talk about time for a second. You remember time, right? That thing that EVERY THING happens in? That thing that you and I have relatively little of. The most precious non-renewable resource in the Universe? Yes, that time. Well, my guess is that, for really important things — things you intend to do — you schedule those things. You carve out a small bit of that most precious non-renewable resource and say, “Hey, I care about this thing so much I’m going to spend time on this.” And, my guess is, you do this on a calendar of some sort, right? The less busy of us might just remember a few items in our head but, I would argue, even in that case you are still keeping a calendar — a this thing happens at this time schedule — in your head. Right?
We calendar keepers, we happy many, we band of brothers and sisters, we’ve been rightfully told that, because time is the most precious non-renewable resource in the Universe, the calendar is sacred hallowed space. That you should only put things on there that you plan to do or that must be done at a particular time. Things like meetings and doctors appointments and conferences and birthdays and anniversaries and…
Now, here’s the part that will likely make many uncomfortable. I’m going to tell you you should put tasks there too. I’m going to argue that, for many things, you should decide the when up front. That you commit. That you give the things on your list a bit of this most precious non-renewable resource in the same place you give all those other things — because you already are. You are just not, maybe, planning ahead for them or scheduling them or putting them in a box marked Today or Tomorrow or Next Week. But every single one of those things, to get done, will happen at a particular time anyway — so, why not be honest and intentional about it?
Think of it like this: A wish list is a list of things we hope will happen one day. Let’s just say it is a list of things you want for Christmas. Well, guess what, you will get nothing on that list under that tree until Santa decides the time to go buy the thing, the time to wrap the thing, and the time to put it under the tree. And, that list comes with a pre-determined due-date of December 25th. Those things that are not under the tree remain on your wish list until and unless Santa decides this is the time for you to get that thing. Any list of things without time attached to it is, functionally, a wish list just like this until you make them important enough to actually deserve your time. Until you play Santa.
That list of things is a wish list, a someday-maybe list, but it is not a task list until you commit a time for those things getting done. Those are things you hope to do — not things you are going to do. Know how I know you are not “going” to do them? Going is an action verb. It means you are in the act of committing a forward movement. Anything staying motionless on a list is not forward movement. Putting a time on something to be done in the future, then moving towards that time, means going to do something. And you are not going to do any of those things unless you do.
I’m not saying you should do this with all of the things on your list of things. It’s useful to have a place for the things that you wish to do. Having a wish list of all the things is actually good. Doing so means you can look at all the things out in the open, take each one, and evaluate if that is something worth your precious time. Ask each thing the question of when. I’m saying you should do it with the things you want to move from a wish to something you actually mean to do. Decide when you are going to do them.
Start with the “Big Rocks” or “Today List” or “Next Actions” or whatever list system du jour your are praying to at the moment. Take those things, look at them, and commit to them — ask yourself the when. When today will you do these things? Are you serious? Then put it on the calendar, schedule, planner, — whatever. Even if it is just to carve out a couple of hours and call it, “A Time for Things”. Now, you have committed. Now, you are serious.
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