The Someday-Maybe list is a mythical being of great power. You give it the things you would like to do, and it keeps them for you. But like most mythical beings, it has a dark side. Most of the Someday-Maybes consume the projects and expand to dangerous levels, until they topple over and explode on your current work, peppering you with shards of guilt and disappointment.
When I first read about the Someday-Maybe list (Getting Things Done), I was thrilled. Finally I had a place to stash all of those things I wanted to do eventually, but just didn’t have time for now. I started cheerfully putting stuff on the list. After all, I would get to it someday, right?
Someday is a really poor place to plan on doing things. Because someday is never now. Click To Tweet
Someday is a really poor place to plan on doing things. Because someday is never now.
And by definition, we will never get to those things. They are out of sight, out of mind, waiting for someday to come.
I had an awakening a couple of weeks ago when I looked at my someday-maybe list. It has grown to gigantic proportions. I would estimate that it will take longer to clear my someday-maybe list than several lifetimes. I don’t have several lifetimes, and so now I must take this beast in hand before I end up with a pile of regrets.
The Cause of The Backlog
The someday-maybe list is just a big ol’ fancy name for a backlog. And it has to be handled like a backlog if you are going to stay on top of it.
Inputs Exceed Outputs
So what causes a backlog? Simply put, it’s when the output doesn’t equal or exceed the input. In other words, you’re not doing stuff as fast or faster as it is being added to the list.
When you are dealing with a backlog on an assembly line, you can see it happening, because the material keeps coming. A great example of this is Lucy’s Chocolate Job:
Putting Reviewing The Backlog on the Backlog
If you can’t see the backlog coming, then you need to review the inputs to see if there is a backlog building. Surprisingly, most people put reviewing the backlog in the backlog. So you may get to the point where you are seeing it, but it will be too late to do anything.
Lack Of Purging
If the backlog gets too great, you either have to put more people on it to get it done, or eliminate the tasks. Most people dump things into their someday-maybe lists and never look at them again. This can cause unnecessary bulk. For instance, you might have wanted to climb Mt. Everest at one point, but if the opportunity offered itself now you would choose not to do it. Yet “Climb Mt. Everest” stays in the list.
Purging any list is important. Lack of purging, after all, is how I ended up with a mini-trampoline. But that is a story for another time.
It can be hard to purge things from your lists. After all, these were things that at one time were important to you. But it still must be done, or the list will soon be unusable.
A Word About Definitions
Before we start talking about sorting your tasks, let’s set forth some definitions.
A Someday is something that you have committed to do. By the nature of the word commitment, it also means that you have set a time frame for when you will do this.
A Maybe means that are things that interest you, but not enough to commit to doing it.
With these two definitions, it should be straightforward to sort your tasks.
Pruning the List
Getting rid of a backlog is not a difficult task, but it can be taxing because you are making lots of decisions. That is the only challenging part of the process. Here are the steps:
- Get everything into one place. Your lists will function best if you only have one place to check. This may live in a part of your regular task list, or in a separate tool altogether. I use Evernote to manage my someday/maybes, because I can easily send things to my task manager of choice, Remember The Milk.
- Decide on a way to distinguish the two. Regardless of where you keep these things, you will need some way to determine which are somedays and which are maybes. You will also need to segregate them if you are using your regular task list, so that they do not cloud your vision of what needs to be done right now. In my case, I have a separate notebook in Evernote for these tasks, and label them as “.someday” or “.maybe”
- First Pass: sort somedays vs. maybes. On your first pass through the list, sort the tasks into somedays and maybes. Use your method decided on in the second step above to label the difference between the two. Remember, if you are not willing to commit to doing this in the next year, it goes on the Maybe list.
- Second Pass: Sort the Maybes. Now you need to take a more detailed look at the Maybe list. Evaluate each one. Sit with it. Ask if you really want to do it. If you do, add the date to it so you know when you last looked at it. If you don’t, delete it. I personally keep an “Abandoned” notebook in Evernote to hold these things so that I can look back and have a good laugh later. (“I really wanted to do that?“)
- Third Pass: Evaluate the Quantity of the Somedays. Now you need to purge your Somedays. If you are like me, you will have lots of things on the Someday list. Far more than you can ever do in the next year, even if you were to quit your job, ignore your family and friends, and focus solely on these tasks. It is time to be realistic about the Somedays. Don’t be afraid to move these into the Maybe list. You will revisit them soon.
- Last Pass: Set Your Timeframes. Now, with your reasonable Someday list, you will go in and set the time frame for when you will do these things. Since I plan my time in 12 week blocks, I mark them as “Now”, “1Q”, “2Q”, “3Q”, “4Q” indicating how many quarters away they are.
That’s it. Your backlog should be manageable.
Getting It Done
So you’ve spent a lot of time working though that list. There are two things you need to remember:
- You must DO the things on the list. Don’t ignore your work. Get those tasks you’ve committed to doing into a place where you will see and work on them.
- You must REVIEW the system at least quarterly. You can either repeat the whole process above quarterly, or mark your new someday/maybes in a fashion that will allow you to process those as above. But you must move the tasks through the system, not allowing anything to stagnate.
Over To You
I would love to know how you manage your someday/maybes without it turning into a slush pile of despair. Comment below, or send me an email!