“Getting Things Done” is by far one of my favorite systems for tracking todo items and productivity. Even when I migrate to another system, a little bit of GTD rears its head. Whether that’s tagging by relevant location, tagging by interest, or whatever else.

Other than GTD, I’m a productivity junkie. I like figuring out and knowing how my mind works in order to do more. I like doing more, who doesn’t, right?

The “Doing More” Trap

The problem with “doing more” is that while my itemized goals can be specific (deploy an app, build a library that does X, etc.), my overall sense of what I want to do is vague. It’s that “more” task which can never be completed.

I’m never satisfied with the amount of stuff I do and on top of that, if I ever clear my to do list, I’m utterly lost.

WHOA, clearing my todo list, sounds crazy right? But isn’t that the point? I tailor my todo lists so that I can finish them. It’s not a never ending backlog of tasks. At least I try to make sure it’s not. It works mostly because I split out my todo lists into several lists like “Today” list where I queue up items for today. “Work” list, “Chores” list, etc.

Sure, I could always add more items but as I try to stay realistic, I run out and then I feel lost and my “do more” task is on hold, no progress.

Burnout and bankruptcy

I recently recorded a podcast episode about “productivity bankruptcy”. Oh, you didn’t know I had a podcast? Did you know about my vlog? And my second blog? What about my guest blogging?

Productivity bankruptcy happens when you take on WAY too much and while you try to clear your todo list, it grows larger than your efforts. Bankruptcy happens when you realize you can’t keep up and you’ve got to start over.

Bankruptcy is not a good thing and is often accompanied by burnout. Burnout can be described as a situation wherein one struggles to be productive at all. It’s nearly painful to be productive.

So what happens when you stretch yourself too thin? You get nothing done and worse yet, you find yourself in a mental situation where you can’t get anything done either.

So what’s been happening?

I’ve barely gotten any sleep in the last few weeks. No, I’ve not been hacking. I’ve been rocking my son to sleep. I’ve been waking up to soothe him while his teeth are tearing their way through his gums.

I’ve also signed up for a hackathon before he started teething, and signed up to do a collaborative NaNoWriMo. On top of those commitments, I have family members flying in which means there’s lots of stress around cleaning and organizing their visits. Did I mention my podcast, vlog, and secondary blog? What about my guest blogging?

When I first recorded my podcast about productivity bankruptcy, I thought I was making my way out of it, but it turns out, I haven’t been. I’ve been waiting for the next thing to throw me off. I’ve been waiting for another wrench in the system to mess me up.

Adapting to new situation doesn’t work for productivity, not when it happens fairly often. Productivity requires routine and habits. Not disruption.

Now? I’m trying to let go.

It’s not that simple. But I had a conversation a week back or so where I talked about all these shows and movies I have to catch up on. Everyone’s been talking about Stranger Things season 2. And I’ve been personally psyched for the new season of Red Dwarf. On top of that, I’m still seasons behind on Naruto Shippuuden.

Entertainment started to feel like a chore, a stressful thing that had to be managed via “productivity” hacks.

The person I talked had an opposite problem. No show or movie he was interested in was good enough or interesting enough. He struggled to find entertainment that he actually enjoyed. When he did, he found that exciting. So he told me something that made an impact on me.

I would be excited to have a backlog like that.

I wondered why. I told him it might potentially take me years to get through the backlog of shows, games, movies, and books. That’s when it hit me.

A ToDo List Doesn’t Have To Be A “Chores” List

Anything “negative” I said, he mirrored with excitement.

It’d take me years? Holy shit! I had years of entertainment to look forward to!

He put my whole dilemma on its head. Instead of seeing my todo list, my backlog of games and books, my backlog of app ideas, etc. as a chores list, he turned it into an opportunity for an exciting road ahead.

The equivalent would be dreading a drive from Houston to Denver (which I did, and it took 16 hours of driving) and getting excited about it as a road trip instead. And indeed, I’ve done a couple of road trips with this person and it never felt like a chore. It was exciting. It gave us time to talk about shit we usually don’t talk about.

I looked at my todo list as a list of opportunities and destinations along the road rather than a chore list I have to finish to get to a destination post that keeps moving further away.

Boredom is good

Repeat it with me “boredom is good”. It feels weird right? Boredom means unproductivity. It means nothing is being done and time is wasted. I found that boredom forces the mind to be creative. It’s like a reset and “sleep” for the productive part of you. It’s a rest, though it feels rather unwanted. With phones, computers, and multimedia immediately available in large quantities, “boredom” has become a symptom of over-exposure to distractions. It’s that time when you refresh Facebook 15 times in a row.

But boredom without those minor distractions that satisfy only a small bit of it, turns into creativity. I was reminded of this just a few days ago when I was walking around with my son in my arms, lamenting that I’ve spent an hour doing so and could not put him down.

I started thinking about Stardew Valley, my favorite game currently, and I walked through an entire “day” of the game. I ended up planning out my entire farm. During that process, I started thinking about a product idea I had (and submitted to ProductHunt). I walked through the implementation of it and started to cut out feature ideas. By the time I was done putting my son to sleep, I had brainstormed and fleshed out most of the product’s features.

I never wrote anything down nor sketched it out but I remember everything pretty clearly and found it to be a pretty good solution.

It’s anecdotal but I think that boredom, at least occasionally, is important to give one space for your mind to work untethered to entertainment, notebooks, or basically anything physical.