I opened up one of our planning sheets the other day, and inexplicably we had somehow bucketed a bunch of projects in Q5 through Q15 of FY2018. It was a classic demonstration of the stupidity of ‘helpful’ algorithms. Someone dragged a field to copy values down and the 21st century version of Mr. Clippy sequenced the projects into a nebulous future. You could equally interpret this event as the universe winking at the absurdity of the list itself. We all know that when you’ve got a few dozen ‘top priorities’, what you’re actually looking at is a whole list Q9 – otherwise known as South of Never.
My personal productivity tools are full of these Zombies From Q9. Emails with documents I’ll never read, languages I’ll never learn, closets I will never clean out. The productivity methodology Getting Things Done has a rule that at least once a year, you purge your life of all these aspirational tasks. It’s like cleaning out your garage and throwing away all the materials you’ve gathered to build a tree house for the children who moved out 5 years ago. In theory, our annual priority and objective setting in the business context should similarly throw away those initiatives which never gained traction in the previous year(s). It’s not that the ideas are not good. It’s not that we shouldn’t do them or that our lives would not be improved were to complete these tasks. It’s that we haven’t. Where we focus our attention, what we actually do says more about our priorities than any to do list or vision board or strategy on a page. We are the actions we take. Our real priorities are revealed by the sum total of what we incrementally accomplish.
If I haven’t learned how to play the flute by now, it’s never going to happen. Today I deleted it from my list. I’m done with Q9.
“Priorities are like arms; If you think you have more than a couple, you’re either lying or crazy.” ~ Merlin Mann