There are many ways to categorize your to-do list to help you decide your priorities.
David Allen recommends you categorize by type of activity (calls, online work, offline computer work, errands, etc.). Then, when you are looking for the next thing to do, you can immediately look at the items that you can do in that context. (If you’re on a plane, you can often do offline computer work, but not online work, etc.)
Stephen Covey recommends you categorize by role (teacher, business owner, administrator, wife, etc.). This helps you ensure that you spend some time on each of the important areas of your life. It helps with life balance.
Here’s another way to divide them up: Growth, Maintenance, Repair.
Growth means taking something that is good or working and makes it better or more effective. This is the most exciting part of work for me. It uses your creativity. It keeps you on your toes. It also takes a lot of energy.
Maintenance means keeping something at the current quality level. Things work as well as they always have. After a spurt of growth, you need systems to maintain that advance and create a new normal that you can maintain.
Repair means taking something that is bad or broken and making it good or fixed — it brings it up to the normal quality level.
I came up with this threesome because I found that I would get ahead of myself, trying to develop new products and ideas (grow) faster than was healthy. To do it, I wound up neglecting ongoing projects (i.e., neglecting their maintenance). Those projects would eventually fall into a crisis (requiring repair), which disrupted everything else I was doing.
Here’s an analogy: If you over-fertilize a plant, it will grow very quickly, but in a scraggly kind of way, that weakens the overall plant.
You can become unbalanced in maintenance and repair, too.
If most of your time goes to maintaining your systems, you will start to stagnate. You will be busy, but never do anything new. The solution is to find ways to automate or delegate the routine work — or otherwise reduce the upkeep. That’s a growth task.
If most of your time goes to repairing your systems, fixing problems, and cleaning up messes, you will enter a dark place where you are focused only on the negative. Mind you, even with great maintenance systems, things happen that require repair. There’s a flood in your basement. The software upgrade doesn’t work the way it used to. You have a new boss and you’re finding him/her hard to work with. But if you find that you are always focused on repair, you may need a major mental reset to establish a new normal that you can grow from. I’ll write about that in another newsletter.
So, when you are making your “to do” list, remember:
If all your time is devoted to growth, you set yourself up for failure.
If all your time is devoted to maintenance, you set yourself up for boredom.
If all your time is devoted to repair, you feel like a failure.
You need some of each. Maintenance and repair are necessary to support growth. Growth is necessary for life.