As a guy that prides himself on productivity, I’ll admit that the title of this post is really weird. As I dug in, though, the concept has slowly made more sense to me.
This comes from a recent episode of the Cortex podcast, where CGP got into this a good bit. It started as a discussion about prioritizing your to-do list, where he suggested you should simply consider:
“What is the order of the next 2-5 things that need to happen?”
Fair enough, sort your list. As he talked further, though, he explained that choosing those “next 2-5 things” means that some items will get pushed toward the bottom and may never get completed — and that’s ok too.
He explains further:
“You’re doing life wrong if you’re consistently getting to the bottom of your to-do list. If your to-do list is empty, you’re not reaching hard enough or you’re just not thinking about the scope of things that you can actually do.”
If your to-do list is longer than you can ever do, that means you can pick the most impactful items to work on and accomplish more than someone that finishes up a short, tidy list.
I see that somewhat like this blog, where my list of potential ideas is outpacing my ability to write about all of them. Right now I have 10 posts ready to go, but 35 more ideas (and growing!) on my list, with a few going back to last year.
This is a good thing! In the case of this blog, it allows me to choose items that I really want to unpack, versus picking something less meaningful because I’m running out of ideas.
A huge to-do list?
In terms of the to-do list, I should clarify that these shouldn’t all be on a single list that you need to sort through every day. If you have tons of items that you want to get done, and they’re all on one list in front of you, that would be overwhelming. Any decent to-do software will let you tuck items away using folders or tags, and you simply need to revisit them periodically to see which ones need to be moved up to the priority list.
I still argue that your inbox and other daily systems should be frequently worked to zero in order to properly set your goals for the day, but a to-do that extends beyond your lifetime isn’t a bad thing at all.
I encourage you to check out the full Cortex episode to hear more. It’s a very long episode, and this section starts around the 1:02:40 mark if you want to just jump in there.