You'll be Getting Things Done when you tie your TO DOs to your commitments.
Getting Things Done by David Allen is probably the best book in the world about how to organize your entire life. When I use his system, life is wonderful. Of course, it does no good to be organized unless you're organized around the right things. And those things are your commitments.
The quick and dirty tip is to monitor your actions to uncover your real commitments. Then make changes as necessary.
Signs of Commitment
My family has always believed in following through on our promises. It was all about integrity. Commitment was our highest accomplishment. In fact, my parents used to provide encouragement. They would say, "Stever, we think you should be committed." I was so proud!
A commitment is something you're dedicated to. It's a pledge; you make it a priority. My friend "John" (not his real name) was talking before he got married: "This whole marriage thing is pretty exciting. We're making a commitment to be together for life! And if it turns out we're not compatible, we can always get a divorce." That's my kind of commitment! All the intensity of commitment, combined with the flexibility of convenience.
Commitment matters. Your commitments are where you put your energy and creativity. Most importantly, your commitments are where you put your life! Your behavior shows your commitments. When I adopted the "Getting Things Done" system, you could tell. I spent a whole week running around my office processing, collecting, reviewing, and filing. It wasn't just talk; you could see it in action.
If, however, I head in to the office in the morning, open a web browser, and proceed to read fifteen political sites, four daily comic strips, and a tutorial in resurfacing parking lots, then these are my commitments. You'll notice the conspicuous absence of anything like, say, doing actual work.
Identifying Your Commitments
This is common. Try an experiment. Right now, think of your top five priorities in life, the things you consider your top five commitments. I'll give you a few seconds. Pause the podcast if you need more time. Ready? Go...
(5 second pause)
Great. Now, think of your schedule today, and the top five ways you plan to use your time. Here's another five seconds.
(5 second pause)
Got that? Great. Now ... The lists were the same, right? If you're like most people, you're lucky to have a single item of overlap. Here's the sad news: your real commitments are the ones on your "to do" list, not the ones on your priority list. That list tells you what you'll get to regret not doing in 40 years unless you change how you use your time.
There are a couple of reasons this happens. First, we don't even know what we want our life to be about. Maybe we had career dreams as a kid (I always wanted to be the guy who drove the ice cream truck. Talk about fringe benefits...Yum!), but we need to revise them as we get older. As an adult, I met the guy who drives the ice cream truck. I don't want to be him any more; he has tattoos in scary places.
Right now, block out a full day on your calendar. Plan to spend that day reviewing your life and consciously choosing what you want your life to be about. I'd make it a repeating appointment, at least yearly, if not twice a year.