How Naming Tasks Makes You More Productive
How important is a name? Let’s ask Shakespeare. “That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” When Juliet Capulet fell in love with Romeo Montague, she knew her family would never accept him. His last name put him out-of-bounds because the two families had a long-standing feud. Juliet believed that, if Romeo were named “John Doe” or “Jemima Puddleduck,” there’d be no problem.
The Brothers Grimm also saw the power of names. When a king threatened to kill a miller’s daughter unless she spun straw into gold, she feared she was a goner. However, a strange little man did the job for her — after she’d promised to give him her first-born child. Later, the odd man came to collect, but the woman — now a queen — wasn’t about to hand over her baby.
As a compromise, the gold-spinner suggested a game: Guess his name, and she’d be off the hook. After all, who’d ever come up with “Rumpelstiltskin?” A mother, of course! The queen discovered the name and, infuriated, Rumpelstiltskin ended up ripping himself in half. Some real anger issues there.
Names are significant in Shakespearean tragedies and fairy tales, but what about in the here-and-now? Using names can make you mightier than Rumpelstiltskin’s queen.
Making a List, Checking It Twice
Ever feel overwhelmed? There’s so much to do, and you don’t know where to start. The office project — no — the laundry — no — the shopping — no — the yard work — NO! You’re up to your neck in chores and sinking fast. Is there any hope?
Yes. Make a list. It identifies, or names, everything you need to do. You’re no longer overpowered by a swirl of ideas. You have a linear categorization of everything that’s been haunting you. Once your tasks are in black and white, it’s easier to plan their demise.
There are better and worse ways to make lists. Scribble down a disorganized set of words, and you’re not a whole lot better off. Prioritize your tasks, and you’ll start working on whatever is most pressing. You’ll see that postponing some duties is fine. Deadlines are far off, or even open-ended. “Okay, I’ve got to go to the grocery store today because I can’t live on mustard and one onion. But mowing can wait ‘til the weekend.” Stress levels drop.
Naming the individual parts of that amorphous mass of jobs brings them under control. You’re more productive and relaxed. When you’re feeling over-burdened, pull out a pencil and some paper.
All the Gory Details
Here’s the thing about lists: They should be doable. If the President of the United States had a To-Do list, it probably wouldn’t have “improve the economy” near the top. That does name a responsibility, but it’s not actionable. POTUS would still face the big question: How?
Look at “names within names.” “Improving the economy” might mean talking to experts, pressuring Congress to pass some bills and signing an executive order or two. Breaking a job up into smaller components helps make it a reasonable undertaking.
It’s probably not your responsibility to boost the economy. What could realistically be on your list? Maybe “clean the hall closet?” But you know the closet’s a mess, so it still seems like too much to handle. It’s time to name the all steps involved. What does “clean the hall closet” mean to you? Perhaps it means:
- Hanging up jackets and coats that slipped off their hangers
- Finding out-of-season items and storing them
- Recycling the accumulated pile of magazines
- Putting the reusable shopping bags into the car’s trunk so you don’t forget them — again
- Checking old sneakers to see if they have any wear left and still fit
There. You’ve named all the subtasks you must complete to officially pronounce your closet “clean.” Now that they’ve been identified, you know exactly how to beat that closet into submission.
What Are You Afraid Of? No, Really.
Naming your fear is a necessary first step to overcoming it. Instead of vague feelings of dread and unease, you’ve got a focus for your discomfort. You may think this is too easy: “I’m afraid of flying.” Done. But once you’ve named it, you can ask the next question: “Why?” This puts you on the road to vanquishing your fear.
Some fears are harder to diagnose. If you feel apprehensive at night, figure out what makes you cringe. Is it the darkness? Going to bed? Bats? The moon? The bogeyman? The name gives you a starting point for beating your phobia.
People name whatever brings them pleasure: Children, pets, boats, even cars. Naming things that are impediments is less common, but just as useful. A name brings the issue into the spotlight. Once a problem is front and center, it’s that much harder to ignore — and easier to conquer. Start playing the name game today!
Also published on Medium.