Dealing with Disaster
I'm a long-standing fan of British time-management guru Mark Forster, and particularly his book Do It Tomorrow.
At the crux of that book is a simple observation: you develop backlogs of work because the amount that comes in each day exceeds what you can get done in that day. Thus, preventing backlogs requires figuring out how to get a day’s worth of work done daily. That usually requires pruning commitments, reducing the flow of incoming work. ‘Time management’ alone won’t fix the problem; if there’s just more work than time allows, you won’t get it all done, regardless of how you prioritize your list.
Forster also recommends starting out by declaring a backlog: taking all tasks, emails, paper piles, etc., and moving them into a separate place – a dedicated to-do list, email folder, stack of papers, etc. You can then start each day by chipping away at the backlog. But, following that, you spend the rest of the day making sure you don’t once again fall behind. (FWIW, more specifically, Forster recommends batching all of today’s incoming work, emails, etc., and completing it tomorrow, so that you can see in its entirety what a full day of inbound commitments entails. Hence the name of the book.)
Recently, I’ve been trying to clean up a bunch of messes I’ve made in life – on the personal and business fronts. And the sheer weight of it all, the number of things I need to make right, has been a bit overwhelming.
Today, however, I realized that those messes are simply a different sort of backlog. So, this morning, I tried to list out everything I want to fix – people to whom I need to apologize or make amends, work that I need to do to feel good about where everything stands. Going forward, then, I’m focused primarily on the day before me: can I live and work today without screwing up anything new?
Sure, my life mess backlog is large. But it’s also finite. It’s a list I can chip away, piece by piece, over time. One that won’t grow any larger so long as I can keep up with living the way I want, day in and day out. And, oddly enough, just by thinking about things in that new way, it suddenly feels like I might be up to the task.