Backlogs, everybody knows them, everybody has them, everybody hates them. So why don’t we get rid of them? That’s because working on a backlog sucks too! Let’s face it, if you liked the work on the backlog in the first place, it probably wouldn’t be a backlog right? Right!
There are five kinds of backlogs that bug(ged) me the most:
1. E-mail backlogs
One of my backlogs that annoyed me the most, was my overflowing inbox. I have that one under control now, but getting there was an arduous task that I thoroughly hated. I planned 4 hours to first fill my inbox with all unprocessed items, and then process them according to the GTD methodology. I loved starting it, both for the anticipation of the results, and for getting into action to solve one of my annoyances. After about 45 minutes into the 4 hours I started to get frustrated with the work. I simply had no joy in doing it, but I persisted and finished. The empty inbox is
great, and the habit to maintain it was a lot easier to adopt then I expected. Admitted, I slipped in it twice, but both times it only took me half an hour to get back up to level.
2. Digital archiving backlog
I admit, I still have this one. I’m the type of guy that dumps everything on his desktop.Once every two months or so, I get frustrated with all the icons on my
desktop so I make a new folder called “Desktop <date>” and dump everything in there…including the already existing “Desktop <date>” folder (that already contained a … you get it right?). This is one that I still have to work on, and continue to procrastinate (all things in due time).
3. Analog archiving backlog
Dealing with my backlog of non-digital administration was something else. At home I had a backlog of up to 4 years on some topics. I literally had piles of paper everywhere, and then some more, and some more in boxes. In true GTD style, I started collecting. And the vast amount of it scared the living daylights out of me. There was this pile of paper, this gigantuous pile of paper gazing at me. And there was not a fiber in my body that wanted to work for days on a row on this boring task.
So I didn’t. I was not going to procrastinate this task anymore, but it had grown too big to get it out of the way in one streak. That’s the punishment you get for procrastinating too long I guess. I ended up doing it in blocks of 2 or 3 hours, it’s taking me a long time (going
on 2 months now) but I’m getting there.
4. Social backlog
Then there’s something like a social backlog. Those family-members you should’ve called for a while now. Those former colleagues you have been ignoring for a tad too long. Are you procrastinating for reason 1 or reason 2? Tough question huh?
5. Health backlog
You should start working on that stamina right? You should visit the gym more (or start visiting it)? And maybe you shouldn’t drink that much coffee? Or alcoholic beverages? And you probably should drink more water, eat more vegetables, right? I know I should
So why do they exist?
Backlogs come to be mainly because of two reasons:
- You lack the habit to prevent it
- You lack the will to do it
Obviously if you can’t prevent them, backlogs will appear. So learning the habits to prevent them is important. However if you lack the will to work on the tasks, you’re having a motivation problem. And that’s not that surprising actually, since most backlogs exist on tasks that are not satisfiers. Having done the tasks doesn’t bring satisfaction, but not doing it does bring dissatisfaction. And that again…sucks. You work hard and you end up not being dissatisfied…
Now how do we get rid of them?
The outlook of being dissatisfied by the existence of backlogs is not very appealing to me. So I started working on them to get rid of them. What works for me is this:
- Assess the size of the backlog
This is necessary to determine how much time it’s going to take.
- Determine the habit you need to prevent it in the future
There’s no point in solving something, when you’re not going to prevent it from happening again. So what habit do you need to develop?
- Learn about the new habit
Read about it, find people who master the habit, talk to them, visualize yourself doing it.
- Plan your work on the backlog
Develop a plan of attack. This varies from person to person. Some people like working long hours to get it done, I like chunk size bits I can do in 2 to 3
hours. But I plan them to get to the end of it.
- Start working
You can also find extra motivation by sharing your goal with a peer, and asking them to help you keep on track. It’s also powerful to give yourself rewards for work you get done.
Like I said, I like working in small steps. For my health backlog for instance, I’m cutting down on the coffee (max 1 cup a day) and alcohol (max 4 days a month), and drink more water (at least 1 liter per day). Those are the easy habits, and I’ve read in different places
that these habits prepare you for a more easy adoption of the active habits (yes…the exercising part).
What’s your experience with backlogs? Do you have them or not? How do you deal with them? Please share your experiences and thoughts.