Cleaning My White Board

Motivation is one of the biggest daily challenges I face.

I have a mountain of things on my plate; it’s easy to get overwhelmed just thinking about them. When I look at my In Box and see 47 non-SPAM messages, I grow weary. When I add to that the appointments on my calendar, and the monumental list of unfinished items on my TO DO list, I sometimes find it hard to even start work – much less accomplish anything.

Lao Tzu, the so-called Father of Taoism, once said “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” In the West, we often translate this as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” However you look at it, the truth is unchanged:

You can’t get anywhere if you don’t start somewhere.

In an effort to ‘get something done‘ every day, I’ve stopped standing before the edifice of my unfinished work. Instead, I choose a small number of things I must accomplish each day. Most days, I choose no more than three. This may seem like a small number, but the reason is practical: more things are always being added to the list.

My goal isn’t to put everything to bed. Instead, my goal is to not fall further behind.

Before I go to bed each night, I choose a couple items from my TO DO list. These are the things I will accomplish on the morrow. When I wake up, I check my email. If there is something there I can take care of right away… I do. It doesn’t go on the list, it gets done. If I can’t accomplish the task immediately, I add it to ‘the list’. By the end of the day, that list is empty.

I used to use Post-it Notes to track my list of tasks, but that didn’t work out very well. New notes were put on top of old ones, and I never seemed to get to the bottom of the stack. Sure, there was the small reward of being able to crumple up a note after a task was done, and through it in the bin. Unfortunately, those victories lacked perspective, as I couldn’t see my list of tasks getting smaller.

I switched to a cork board. This worked for a while, but it soon became a jumbled mess of paper, spiked to the wall in a haphazard manner. I still had the joy of throwing away paper when a task was done, but now I was getting overwhelmed with a chaotic forest of pages, screaming for my attention.

In the end, I switched to a dry erase board. Nothing goes on the board except the list of tasks for today. Everything else is in a simple text file on my desktop – the list I go to each evening. This regime works well for me. I have a simple, clear visual aid to show me what is on the docket each day. As a task is complete, I erase it from the board. This isn’t as gratifying as crumpling up paper, but it is still tactile, and also allows me to see progress relative to a confined set of goals. What’s more, I’m not killing trees – an added bonus.

I don’t care so much for unfinished business anymore. I take one day at a time.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

Icon courtesy: Open Clip Art

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