Yesterday, while waiting at Vietnam’s immigration center for my landing visa to be printed, I heard a nearby husband and wife couple argue.
Turns out, like me, they had applied for a visa online but because of a last minute rush to get to the airport, they had forgotten they needed to print it out.
“Why didn’t you just do it yesterday night?”
“I was tired! I put it on my todo list and I was going to do it this morning but we were in such a rush that I didn’t get a chance to.”
Their conversation was intriguing to me because listening to them reminded me of myself. Several ago, I would’ve been in the exact same situation — putting a task that I considered important to my “must do” to-do list before completely forgetting about it.
Most of us have to-do lists that we try to follow, and more often than not, we never get around to accomplishing these tasks. We know these tasks are important so we put them on a list as to not forget about them, but we always forget anyways.
Several years ago, after having forgotten to buy a gift for my mom and dad’s 25th anniversary, I decided to change. I made it a mission to not forget things of importance again so I began following a piece of advice I had read in a book somewhere that said something like this:
“If there’s something that’s important or worth doing, do it immediately. Drop everything else, and get it done.”
And it worked. It changed my perspective, my way of seeing tasks. It’s funny because it’s ironic in a way; I cross off less items off my todo lists than I had before but I feel like I’ve accomplished more because the things that aren’t on the list that I’ve done are things of greater importance and significance.
A lot of the tasks we write in our todo lists we actually don’t want to do. That’s why they’re tasks, because if they weren’t tasks and something we’d want to do, they would’ve been done already. Writing it on a to-do list is a way of creating an excuse for us to not feel guilty not having done it at that moment and to convince ourselves that because it’s on our to-do list, it’s still important to us and that we’ll get around to it eventually.
The perfect example is going to the gym and working out. As we’re sitting there with time to plan our day, we think about maybe going to work out and plan it in that days’ to-do list. We don’t really want to work out (who does?), but at least by putting it on a to-do list and drowning it with several dozen other “must do” tasks, we won’t feel guilty.
Whether or not something is important is all in your mind. Things are only as important as we make it out to be. If it’s something that’s truly important enough to you, you’ll get it done without even the use of a list. Imagine the last time you needed to do something really important — would you have forgotten simply because it wasn’t on a list?
We all like to think of ourselves as busy and that all of our tasks are important and worth doing, but it’s not true. It’s rarely the case. The moment that we think of when to do the task instead of doing it immediately means that it’s not really that important. It means that there are other things that are more worth doing at that very moment, like planning, than actually doing that task.
Ask yourself the last time you actually put your to-do list to good use. If you crossed off all the things on your to-do list, you’re doing great and this post probably isn’t for you. But if you’re like most of us, what’s the point of having the to-do list in the first place if we’re never going to get around to it anyways? The only way we can change and make an impact on our lives is by doing what’s important immediately, within reason. If you’re in the middle of something you really can’t drop, make your task the very next thing you do. If you still can’t or don’t, there’s a good chance that it’s probably not as important as you think. In that case, considering if it’s something even worth worrying over, since after all, begin forgotten in your mind or being forgotten on a to-do list makes absolutely no difference.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen Covey