Taking the Idealistic Approach to Everything on Your To-Do List Is Not Ideal

How to weigh time spent against results.

Many of you are “idea” people who:

  • Often think of different ways to approach a problem
  • Like to do things “ideally”
  • Care about quality
  • Feel a bit dissatisfied with most results

Your pursuit of excellence is a huge asset when pursuing your most important time investments as Cal Newport so eloquently describes in his post about remarkability. But when you take a high-quality, idealistic approach to everything from selecting toothpaste to composing a masterpiece, it’s almost impossible to achieve your ideal overall life and schedule.

To help you work through this dilemma, I devised the INO System to assist you in thinking about how you approach each item on your to do-list. This is not an “ABC” or “123” method of deciding what to do in a day. Instead this is a way of deciding on the benefit of applying more time and energy to an activity that is already in your schedule. Here are definitions of the three types of activities and potential examples (you get to decide how your daily activities fit into each category):

Investment: Spending more time on these activities could lead to a significant increase in the benefits you receive. Professional example: a significant career enhancing project. Personal example: quality time on important relationships.

Neutral: These activities give back as much as you put into them. Professional example: hourly work. Personal example: pleasure reading.

Optimize: More time spent on these activities decreases benefits. Professional example: routine e-mail or paperwork. Personal example: cleaning the kitchen.

At the start of each day, you can label each item with an I, N, or O to help you remember whether it’s worth putting more time and energy into that activity. In order to maintain balance, even the “investment” activities will need to have some time boundaries. But in general, you want to:

  • Complete the “optimize” activities as quickly as possible. (They charge an interest rate.)
  • Limit the amount of time you spend on “neutral” activities. (They have a 0% interest rate.)
  • Maximize the time you spend moving forward on “investment” activities. (They pay you back with interest.)

(Image via Elnur/Shutterstock.com)