Back to Zero

Earlier today I took a look at my To Do list notebook and decided to do something drastic: I sent it through the shredder.

Some Graph Paper and a Decent Pen

Generally I keep a dedicated notebook for the task of To Dos. Every page is dated and, at the end of every day, I write the incomplete items from the current day onto the page dedicated for the next day. As people ask for things throughout the day, I add the request to the list and attack things in an order based on what I see as more important or more interesting. This system has worked well for a number of years as it allows me to go back and see certain patterns. Unfortunately, the nightly process of writing incomplete items onto the next day's sheet has become a bit of a strain.

At the start of Monday there were 18 incomplete items that needed attention, about four of which are very much my responsibility. Tuesday saw 23 incomplete items waiting for me in the morning. This morning it was 31. Every day I'm checking off six or seven items but the list just continues to grow and I'm running out of energy to tackle many of the tasks that involve chasing down people who are consistently missing their commitments. I'm not a manager, yet I certainly feel like one with all the emails, "pings", and phone calls to people in an effort to figure out whether an up-stream process has completed or not.

The problem is that I'm simply not keeping up with all of the things that people are expecting done and the anxiety that I feel as a result of the ever-lengthening list is simply unsustainable.

When an Inbox is siting completely empty, we call it "Inbox Zero". When a To Do list is completely empty, I call it liberating.

Of course, one does not simply destroy a list of tasks and their history and expect that everything is gone. Some of the responsibilities still need to be completed and will be worked on tomorrow when I return to the desk to begin yet another day of work. For tonight, though, there will be no list transfer. Heck, aside from the plastic spiral loop that I threw in the recycling bin, there is no book anymore.

What I hope to accomplish with this act of destruction is to reduce the anxiety that I generally feel. There will always be a lot of work waiting in the morning, which is one of the reasons I'm employed. If there wasn't a long list of tasks then my managers would likely find a way to keep me busy. By not having a running list that grows by the day it might be possible to relax a bit and focus a little more on the important work that needs to be finished. Will there be a risk of feeling anxiety about possibly forgetting something? Sure. But if something is truly important, there will be a message in my inbox … or on Teams … or on Slack.

Being useful is something I take far too seriously. Maybe by eliminating some of the structures around how I perform my job I can slow down and focus more on what's in front of me, maybe even improving the quality of my work as a result.

People can only run at 100% for so long, and I'm tired of burning out.