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The Dreaded “B” Word


When you ask most people the question, “How are you?” the answer usually is some form of, “Busy.”

But what does “Busy” actually mean?

I am a curious person, so I will often follow up with a question like, “Can I see your To Do list?”

Why do I ask this?

Because your To Do list is the ‘source of truth’ for how busy you are.

“Busy” is subjective.

My “Busy” compared to your “Busy” might be completely different.

However, your To Do list should be an objective record of all of the things you need to do.

When you look at a 'Busy' person's To Do list, it usually includes a never ending list of hundreds of tasks in multiple locations.

After looking at hundreds of people’s To Do lists, I often find a number of problems including:

  • Tasks which aren’t sorted by ‘time to complete’ from longest to shortest.
  • Tasks which aren’t sorted by priority from highest to lowest.
  • Tasks which aren’t well defined with a clear definition of done.
  • Tasks which have been given by others but are missing key details in order to complete them.
  • Tasks which come in through a multitude of channels like email, text, Slack/Teams, and meetings
  • Tasks which don’t have a target due date.
  • Tasks in many different locations: paper, desktop stickies, spreadsheets, email, text message, various Task or Project Management software, etc.
  • Tasks which are different every time instead of following an agreed process as part of a larger business operation.

It’s very easy to default to “Busy” when you have multiple To Do lists and each contains hundreds of ill defined tasks with no clear priority or time estimate.

It’s no wonder we are so overwhelmed and never feel like we can leave a massive vortex of endless To Do’s.

Instead, let’s:

  • Limit how many To Do lists we have - ideally one (sorry, paper lovers!)
  • Create well defined tasks with a clear Description of Done and Due Date.
  • Put Time Estimates on tasks (even a range like Small, Medium, Large) to understand time to completion.
  • Understand how tasks fit into a company process and templatize it.
  • Define for a team which tasks are high, medium, and low priority.

Tasks are meant to be completed.

Crossing something off your To List should feel great.

By taking a bit more time to clarify your To Do list, you will be on the road to Completion and feel ‘Accomplished’ instead of ‘Busy.’