It is an interesting phenomenon: Doing work doesn’t always result in less work to be done. Sometimes it results in more work.
For when you complete task A, at least two things might happen. First, you might be freed up to then do the next step on something — which might even be bigger. Second, you might notice that there is something else that needs to be done that you couldn’t see before.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that we shouldn’t necessarily think that the way to “get on top of things” is to do more work, in the elusive quest to ahead of the game on all fronts.
Now, I do believe that there is a way to get ahead on all fronts, if we define that accurately. But the path is probably more counter-intuitive than we initially realize. The one thing I do know is that it takes something other than simply working through our tasks to get there.
I think Stephen Covey starts to get at the heart of this when he says in First Things First (and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) that the key is “to not prioritize what’s on your schedule [or action lists], but to schedule your priorities.”
In other words, we should not simply be “doing” our work. We should also be asking if this is the work we should really be doing. We should not simply do something because it ended up on our list — even if we are the ones who put it there.
In addition to making decisions about what’s already on our list, we also need to ask what things are truly a priority to us, but are not reflected on our current action or project list. Then we need to make those our top tasks.
There are a few ways to do that. One way is to actually schedule them on your calendar (which I know is not in line with the GTD approach in general). There are other ways as well, but that’s for another post.