It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it done, as long as you know you’re not doing it

“Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation,” David Allen of GTD fame argues, “but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others.”

That’s where I’m at right now, or at least where I’m headed. The only thing standing between me and a couple of weeks off is two more days at the office, but there’s a lot to do in that limited amount of time. I’m making some progress, but it still feels like there’s a mountain left to climb, just like it always does before a break.

The biggest challenge at the moment is to get rid of that feeling of “so much to do” – and the act of actually doing things is a pretty small part of that challenge.

I do have a non-negotiable list of things I need to get done, but it’s pretty small compared to the list of things I’d like to do. Or maybe the latter list just feels larger because I don’t have a great sense of what’s on it. Either way, it’s distracting me from the non-negotiable jobs, and it’s adding unnecessary stress to an already busy week.

Take a look at the language Allen uses above. For a guy who built his reputation on the notion of “getting things done,” there’s a notable absence of “doing” in this scenario. Instead, he’s talking about cleaning up, closing up, clarifying, and renegotiating agreements. And he nails it, because that’s what you’re meant to do at a time like this.

There’s no way I’m going to do everything I want to do before I leave town on Friday. I’m not even going to come close, and if I try to do it all, I’ll only end up losing sight of my priorities and letting important things slip through the cracks. Better to identify and complete the non-negotiables, and do what I need to do in order to feel good about postponing the rest.

I’ll have to make a few calls and send a few emails, letting people know I’ll see them in a couple of weeks. But mostly, all I need to do is take a thorough inventory of all the stuff that’s up in the air, say “I don’t have time for that,” and file it away for future reference.

“Defining what you are not doing,” Allen writes elsewhere, “is as important as knowing what you are doing… You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” If I can get to that point tonight, then I can feel great when I leave work tomorrow, and I can relax and enjoy myself while I’m away.

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