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My 2013 "To Stop Doing" List

By George Siemens January 2, 2013 - 11:34am Comments (1)

My history with to do lists is not pleasant.

I've gone through the books, resources, and models of getting things done (including the classic, GTD). End result: more frustration with a system than productive achievement. Part of the problem arises with most "to do" models not accounting for the sometimes dynamic nature of knowledge work where things change quickly and opportunities need to be embraced when they arise. I keep very general to do lists, based on general goals like "publish 3 articles in peer review journals by XXX" or "spend 2 hours of uninterrupted writing time daily". Specifics are lacking, however. I'm marginally at peace with that now. I am not a structured sequential person. I am comfortable using project management software when projects require it, but that's quite different from personal productivity. 

Instead, I've been reflecting on my "To Stop Doing" list. The Pareto principle emphasizes that inputs and outputs are not equal. I can spend a significant amount of time each day in activities that generate little positive impact. Ideally, the goal is to target the small percentage of activities that generates desirable output and making sure that those activities get done on time and thoroughly.  

Here are some principles that I plan to follow in reducing unproductive activities:

1. Stop leaving email open. I generally have my email open, which means that I get frequent distracting reminders of things I need to do. I'm going to confine email time to certain times a day (early morning, late afternoon) and reduce my use of mobile email. I can't remember the last time where email on my mobile solved a significant problem. It is mostly a distraction. 

2. Stop treating social media as a process. I treat twitter as a process, running in the background throughout the day with regular updates and postings. To be productive, I plan on using it more as an event - set times of the day, generally when I'm going through RSS feeds.

3. Stop diverse and indiscriminate tracking of trends. While new stuff is fascinating, digging deeper with important, and personally relevant, trends is more important. While it is nice to know trends in journalism or in some other vaguely relevant field, it provides little insight. There are too many quasi-renaissance men/people on the web. 

4. Stop reading and learning redundantly. I follow just under 1000 blogs in Google Reader. Many of these are redundant. Many of them tell me what I already know. I have a similar experience on Twitter - much of what I encounter is people telling each other what they already know and agree with. This type of 'validation learning' is needless.

5. Stop meetings. I don't like meetings. No meeting needs to last longer than 20 minutes. Meetings aren't for doing, they are for talking. I think of it like a teeter-totter: if we're meeting, we're not doing.