The trouble with nouns

I mentioned back in my February 11 post that I learnt 2 things from time management guru David Allen that have proved invaluable to me in keeping myself organised.

The first I covered back in February in my discussion of the usefulness of the alphabet. Today’s post concerns the second.

David believes that the biggest problem with to-do lists is that they tend to be a jumble of nouns. Like ‘finances’.

The trouble with nouns is that by the time you get to that item on the to-do list it isn’t always obvious what it was you had in mind to do about that noun. And so he argues it’s much smarter to list VERBS or what David refers to as “next actions”.

The reason why many of us don’t do this naturally is because we’re lazy. It’s a lot easier to jot down a general worry item — like “finances” or “taxes” or “mother’s day” or “tickets to New York”, then it is to ‘front load the work’ by stopping to think what is the very next action required in connection with these nouns. Is it a phone call? It is checking your diary to find the best date to travel? Is it talking to your brother? Is it finding that bill?

What is the verb sitting behind the noun parked on your list?

I mention all this today because I’ve picked the 2 of Diamonds and having consulted the Deck of Small Change list of assignments, I’ve discovered that the 2 of Diamonds represents “mortgage”. That’s it. Just that lonely noun. The assignment doesn’t mention what exactly I am to do about “mortgage”.

Since I invented the weekly assignments, I’m not surprised that I threw down a noun here. To have worked out the action I need to take concerning my mortgage would’ve stressed me out.

These are some of the things I worry about when I think about the noun “mortgage”:

  • Will my mortgage provider raise the interest rate or in some other way penalise me if I tell them that I am renting out my flat?
  • How little money might they lend me these days should I sell that flat and hunt for another?
  • Would they be prepared to lend me enough to buy another place should I keep that flat and try to buy another?
  • Do I need to start facing these issues sooner rather than later given that I am ageing and I don’t know at what age a lender becomes a lot less excited about lending out money for 20-30 years…

I imagine a simple phone call to my lenders would clarify all of the above. So, this week, that’s my next action.

2 thoughts on “The trouble with nouns

  1. Quite aside from finances, this is great advice. How many times have I looked at a to-do list and thought, “What does that even mean?!” I’ve never thought of it as being as simple as just adding a verb, but that’s exactly it. Thanks 🙂

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