If you’re not one of those people who gives yourself too much to do, this post may not be for you.
For the rest of us, with goals and dreams and drive, do you ever feel like you’ve got too much to do? I’m not talking about wanting more hours in the day, which we all do, but simply having too many things to do … period. That sense that, even if you had a magic genie willing to give you endless hours, you’d never get everything you wanted to do done.
To keep track of stuff, I use a Hipster PDA, enterprise edition – 8.5×11 sheets of paper, folded on their long axis, with TODO items written on them and bills and such carried within the folder. Each todo has a little box next to it that I can check off, and periodically I copy items from a half-filled sheet to a new sheet, reprioritizing as I go.
But I’m a pack rat, so I keep a lot of my old TODO lists, organized in a file. Sometimes the TODO sheets get saved for other reasons – for example, the sheets are good headers for stacks of papers and notes related to a project. As projects get completed, I come across these old sheets, and have the opportunity to review what I once thought I had to do.
And you know what? Most of the things that you think you need to do are completely worthless. They’re ideas that have relevance at the time, that may seem pressing at the time, but are really cover-your-ass responses to possibilities that never came to pass. The situation loomed, came, and then passed you by … and should take your TODOs with it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have things on your TODO list. I’m planning my 2013 right now. And I’m not saying you should give yourself a pass on obligations you’ve incurred to others. But I am saying you don’t need to maintain every commitments you’ve ever made to yourself, especially those that came in the form of a TODO list item or a personal challenge.
As an example, a thing I do is take pictures of food and post it to my Google+ stream. Originally I was doing this as preparation for doing restaurant reviews, but I found I actually like the images of food more than I wanted to spend time writing reviews, especially since I have so much more writing to do. But when I get busy, I’ll take more pictures than I post. I get a backlog.
So how much effort should I take going back to post the pictures? None is one good answer, but that begs the question to be asked: why are you taking the pictures in the first place? Periodically is another good answer, but it’s actually difficult to figure out what I’ve posted and what I haven’t. So hunting through my image feeds can become its own form of archaeology.
But you know what? The world won’t come to an end if I don’t post every picture I’ve ever taken of one of my favorite dishes at my favorite restaurants. If you’re not obsessive-compulsive, you may not understand this, but the thought of something you said you were going to do that isn’t getting done is an awful torment to those of us who are.
That’s where a mulligan comes in. In the competitive collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, players compose decks of cards which they use in duels with other players – but no matter how well a player has prepared his or her deck of cards, success in depends a good initial hand of cards. The best deck in the world can be useless if you draw seven “lands” – or none.
So the game allows you to “mulligan” – to discard that initial hand and re-draw with one less card. That’s a slight disadvantage, but a hand with no “lands” is useless – you can’t do anything on the first round, and your opponent will clean your clock. Better to have a balanced hand of six cards than seven you can’t do anything with at all. Better to have at least a chance to win.
So that’s my gift to you all this New Year’s Eve: declare yourself a mulligan. Maybe the turn of the seasons are just a notch on the clock, but use this passage as a point of inspiration. It’s a new year, a new day, the starting point of a new path. Remind yourself of your real goals, and throw away any out of date TODOs and collected personal obligations that are holding you back.
Hug your wife, pay your bills, feed your cats. Write the software that pays the bills, and the books that you plan to do.
But don’t let yourself get held back something you wrote a year ago on a piece of paper.
Not for one minute.
If you let yourself, the sky is your limit.