When I was growing up, in our kitchen there was a chalkboard that had pride of place on the wall just beside the back door. My mum basically ran the family (with very little assistance from any of us) off of that chalkboard. With hindsight, it was basically a mish-mash of next actions, projects, and messages, but it worked. Those were much slower, simpler days, and a big chunk of its utility was in its visibility.
When my mum moved out of the house the chalkboard moved out to the cottage, where it has enjoyed a similar status and utility on the way out a different back door ever since.
About midway through this year’s summer break at the cottage, I noticed that I was getting a ton of things done that I’d written up on the chalkboard – with almost no real thought or focused effort on my part – but that my ‘@cottage’ list in my GTD system wasn’t getting much traction. The list in my system simply wasn’t visible enough, or at least it wasn’t anywhere near as visible as the old chalkboard.
Needless to say, I then transferred the things from the ‘@cottage’ list onto the blackboard, and temporarily made the blackboard a part of my system. Hey presto, all of those things that had been mouldering on the ‘@cottage’ list started to move forwards too.
The key in both cases – 50 years apart, for my ma and for me out at the cottage – is the ‘in your face’ nature of the lists. Just seeing things as I walked past made it obvious that they were not terribly difficult, or time consuming, so I went off and got them done.
Herewith a selection of things that showed up on the chalkboard list this year:
· Hang new shower curtain
· Test keys in shed down by the lake
· Re-tape canoe seat
· Get water from the pump
· Pick berries
· Chop wood
· Hang up hammock
· Check shed for extension cords
Lovely clear next actions, all of them, with the added benefit of the satisfaction of wiping them off a clearly visible surface to demonstrate progress.
So far, so nostalgically low-tech. What’s the point? At issue here is not cottages, kitchens, or chalkboards, but how the visibility of the lists you use affects their utility.
To be clear, I believe that if you make them – if only to bury them in a digital system in order to not look at them – I still think you are way better off than not making the lists at all. The quality of the thinking you do to create them will change your relationship with what you want to do, and that will move things on immeasurably. But if you create them and get them up in your face on a regular basis, then you will really start to motor on moving things forward.
In some ideal world, the software you are using would identify where you are and project the list of things to do – in that location, with that tool, or with the person you are looking at – into your field of vision a la Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit. I’m guessing Google Glass can do it now, if you can live with the geeki-ness of it, and already there is an Android app called GeoNote that will vibrate when you move to a place that puts you in position to do something on one of your lists.
But it doesn’t have to be hi-tech. As an example, one of my clients recently invested USD 10.49 on some specialized post-its to move his lists from a place he wasn’t looking to a place he consistently sees them. After struggling with his lists for months…vrrooooom, he’s off and running.
If you have been creating lists and not looking at them, here is the question: what do you need to do – be it hi- or lo-tech – to get your lists more visible for yourself?
The chalkboard got me to thinking, but time has moved on. So, as I write, a magnetic glass and steel ‘chalkboard’ is being installed in our kitchen. Google Glass will have to wait for my inner geek to get the upper hand over my minimal sense of style.