This post is part of a series I started on September 9, 2012.

Until very recently, I had a hard time keeping a task list. Usually, I was only able to keep it together for a week before the list became so full I had to declare task list bankruptcy, deleting my entire task list and starting all over again.

Every time a system fell apart, I alternated between blaming myself for not being able to keep it together and blaming the organizational system I was using for holding me up to an impossible standard.

This sounds like a productivity disaster, but I ended up getting all of the most important stuff done because the problem wasn’t that I was disorganized or that the system was bad. It was that I couldn’t tell the difference between intentions and commitments.

Commitments are promises with consequences.

When a commitment isn’t met, someone gets hurt: a coworker who needs you to get your work done before they can get their work done, a friend who rejected other social opportunities because they planned to have dinner with you, or the person making the commitment.

Whenever I miss a writing market’s deadline, I’m the one who misses out on the opportunity to publish. Worse, if I promise to meet a deadline to someone else, and I miss it, I risk getting a reputation for not doing what I say.

Intentions stretch toward a goal or ideal.

On September 9, I set an intention for myself to post to my blog three times a week. There are many reasons why I set this intention. One of them is because I have this ideal in my head of the kind of writer I want to be, and part of that ideal involves blogging. Posting three times a week is a stretch for me, (I hear you laughing out there productivity mavens!) which is why I decided to make it an intention rather than a commitment even though it’s an essential step toward getting something I want.

There’s a fine line between committing to a goal and having an intention.

I may have crossed the line between having an intention and making a commitment to blogging by mentioning it in this post, but I’m taking that risk because I’ve succeeded at this intention enough times that a pattern is starting to develop. And it’s a good example to illustrate my point.

In the past, I would have noticed that I was doing fairly well keeping my blog updated, and I would have turned the intention to update my blog three times a week into a commitment. I would have started making promises. I would have felt guilty, if I didn’t update my blog, and I would have made myself do penance (extra blog posts) for failing to meet my commitment.

Worse, I might have made a commitment before I knew what my limits were.

I’ve written before about how easy it is to get into a situation where you’re forced to write crap because reneging on a commitment is the only alternative. I call this intention creep. It’s what happens when good intentions become burdensome commitments.

It was a combination of intention creep and the battle with myself over the location of the line between committing to a goal and an intention that doomed my efforts to keep a task list for so long.

These days, I view my task list as an invitation to myself to articulate my limits and priorities, which sounds as fun as organizing a socks drawer, but when it means crossing a lot of things I don’t actually have to do off a list, it feels pretty good.

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