June 3, 2012

To Do, Not To Do, To Ignore--What's On Your Ignore List This Week?

If you're like me and many of my writing club participants, you have a weekly or monthly goal setting ritual.  Usually this involves sitting down on a Sunday evening or Monday morning and setting goals for the upcoming week.  For me, I consider my schedule as well as all of the long term projects I'm working on and when I can do what.  Usually I end up with several different to-do lists, or in David Allen terms, lists of next actions.  I also end up with a plan for the week that involves assigning tasks to various blocks of time, whether it's a meeting with a freelance client or preparing for a class that I'm teaching, or writing for my book or blog posts.  What I don't usually do, though, is make a list of what I won't be doing, a concept I'd never really thought about until one of my clients pointed me to Peter Bregman's article in the Harvard Business Review.

Somewhat similar to the unschedule idea we've talked about previously on this blog, Bregman argues that an ignore list is perhaps even more important than a to do list, because it forces us to choose consciously about how we're going to spend our time.  He encourages us to have two ongoing lists that we should at least glance at every morning--our "focus list," where we look at the road ahead, and our "ignore list," which may include silly distractions, but perhaps also seemingly important tasks as well.  The ignore list, he says, forces us to ask ourselves not only what gets in the way, but what are we willing not to achieve?

I confess this is a tough one for me.  I don't like having to admit to myself that there may be paths I'll never take, paths that I am willfully choosing not to take, because of the life I'm trying to fashion.  But in reality, we make these choices anyway, whether consciously or not--and isn't it better to face them than to avoid them?  Or are we afraid that if we ask the question, that we'll force ourselves to be aware of when we're getting painfully, dangerously off course?

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