How I Dealt with my Paralyzingly Long To-do List
I woke up today and saw this on my to-do list.
My to-do list is where I put all my crazy ideas, build my habits, track deadlines and everything in between. If you ask my friends & family to describe me, chaotic & spontaneous would make the list. My to-do list is my attempt at managing my chaotic life, and frankly, it’s failing.
While this system works, many tasks (especially ones without due dates) fall through the cracks. This list is paralyzing. Even while working on a task, I think about all the other things I have to complete that day.
So in dealing with my work-related anxieties, I turned to meditation & eastern philosophy like Buddhism (I highly recommend Waking Up by Sam Harris as an intro) to find some answers.
I learned the key to making work feel like a slice of heaven: focus. Let me explain.
Buddha and Focus
Buddhist philosophies hold mindful focus as the centrepiece of a peaceful mind.
According to Buddha, with focus (a.k.a. the zone/deep work):
- Impure intentions disappear & bliss is achieved
- Activities of the mind come to an end and only bliss remains
- Bliss itself begins to disappear
- All sensations, including bliss, disappear, and only complete peace of mind remains.
Complete peace of mind. Sounds f**king amazing.
I re-oriented my life and reframed my work to be a tool to sharpen my focus.
This change in perspective seems subtle but completely altered how I live my life. Every challenge is merely an opportunity for me to hone my focus. The takeaway:
My goals don’t matter…
That came out wrong.
My goals don’t matter for the reasons I used to think they matter.
Armed with this Buddhist philosophy, I returned to work. Intending to improve my focus, I realized that the following questions derail my productivity every time I ask them:
What should I work on?
Is what I’m working on the best thing I could be doing right now?
Is there a faster way to do this?
On the surface, these are reasonable questions. In the proper context, they’re a healthy way for you to be intentional about your actions. But these questions have a hidden dark side. They’re the fastest way to destroy your focus during a work session.
Think about the highest-performing athletes in the world. Most have coaches to help them answer these questions. Coaches give directions and make effective workout/training plans so that athletes can focus solely on executing to the best of their ability.
Sounds awesome right?!
Is there a way for us all to have a coach to help us achieve our wildest dreams?
This question is the inspiration for Depth.
What is Depth?
Depth is an app that connects with your to-do list (e.g. Todoist, TickTick, Things) and only shows you one task at a time, prioritized by importance and urgency. Depth single goal is to keep you in flow for as long as possible. You never need to think about what to do next.
Typically, when you open up your task manager (e.g. Todoist, TickTick, Things), you’re instantly bombarded with a list of things you need to do.
Ultimately, you’re paralyzed by the number of tasks on your list, and you end up choosing tasks that have the closest deadline or highest priority. This flawed task selection process leaves long-term (yet still important) tasks unfinished.
Depth is an intelligent task management system that lets you dump all your tasks in one place and walks you through completing them in time and order.
Depth is your coach. You’re the high-performance athlete.
When you open Depth, it asks you a series of important questions about how you’re feeling.
What’s your grindset (what TYPE of task do you feel like working on)?
- Reactionary (Emails, etc.)
Do you have a time limit?
When Depth presents you with a task to do, you have two options. Accept or skip.
If you accept, Depth asks you: “What is the smallest step you can take in service of your task?” When you complete this task, it celebrates your achievement and asks you to enter the next step you can take. More often than not, once you’ve started, you’ll quickly find flow, and the work will become easy and pleasurable.
If you skip, Depth asks you to classify the task with a few questions.
- What type of task is this?
- What’s the smallest increment of this task?
- How difficult is this task (Fibonacci number rating system)
- How long might the smallest increment of this task take?
- Is this task worth your time and aligned with your long-term goals?
Next time you enter how you’re feeling, Depth will suggest the tasks that match your grindset.
Depth is for craftspeople who want to work towards mastery of their discipline through focus.
… But it doesn’t exist (YET). If Depth sounds interesting to you, reach out to me personally with your thoughts (and resume — if you want to work on building it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we find enough interest, we’ll assemble a team to make Depth a reality.