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Why *my* NUTs should not be *your* NUTs!

Repeat after me: I will not brain dump onto others, I will not brain dump onto others, ...
I was talking recently with a friend and mountain bike buddy about the ideas I teach, especially the notion of keeping everything out of your head. He loved it, and really understood the negative impact that NUTs (Nagging Unfinished Tasks) have on us (see Personal productivity, IBMs, and NUTs: Some surprises about the brain). The next time we met he was very animated about this because he realized a) his spouse has these NUTs (most of us do, unless we rigorously practice a method like Getting Things Done), and b) he claimed she tries to get him to take them on for her!

Does this happen with someone in your life? It's essentially delegation, but in an unclear and indirect manner - more like a brain dump onto someone else. And as Roizen and Oz point out in YOU: The Owner's Manual, there's a real cost to not handling these effectively (they say these age you by eight years - excerpts on-line at Google Books).

The question is, how do you deal with someone trying to do this to you? It turns out I had a chance to practice - I ran into my friend's spouse (a very sweet person) when leaving their place for a ride, and she asked me to pass along a message to my spouse. Because I didn't have my capture tool with me (a calculated oversight - see A few thoughts on capture and What's the best tool for ubiquitous capture?), I told her I couldn't take it on. My reason was that I might forget or garble it, and then I'd have two women angry with me (much worse than 12 Angry Men!) Plus, I have enough of my own tasks I have to manage. To myself I thought, I'm not paid to take on stuff like this for others - that's a tough job (see Best practices for GTD and administrative assistants).

Is this bad? Should we take on little things like this for others? And are they little? My advice: Be careful what you take on. In general, saying "no" is important to managing your own stress levels, and it becomes much easier once you've identified every commitment in your life. However, people might see this as being selfish or unhelpful, so treat them with respect and compassion, possibly explaining your reasons. A few resources for saying no:By the way, would you remind me to...

Reader Comments (15)

Nice work - and I couldn't agree more. The only thing I would wonder is if there aren't diplomatic methods for saying 'no'. when someone asks you to do something for them (arguably a brain dump), rather than straight and off-putting 'no' (followed by 'and don't try to brain-dump on me!'), one might try 'I'm sorry, I'm really bad at remembering to do things like that. please don't rely on it'. It's even more complicated between spouces (spice?) where the matrix of responsibility is so shared, fluctuating and complex.

May 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMrRee

Excellent, excellent comment, MrRee. Thanks so much - that's exactly the spirit I had in mind. Also, the complexity is a major factor - thanks for bringing it up.

May 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Saying "no" is really important, but when it is a friendly request that involves little effort, I think one has the option of being non-comittal. A small twist on MrRee's comment: Rather than putting yourself in the position to apologize for your inability to remember, I might try: "If I remember, I will. But how about you give her a ring just in case I forget?" That's a gentle way to encourage her to assume responsibility for her NUTS, but you neither had to say no or be self-deprecating. And who knows, you might in fact just remember to transmit the message?

Since it is a favor, it isn't as though she's going to come back with "Well, can't you write it down?" :-)

May 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Thanks, Rebecca - I like your attitude and suggestions.

May 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I agree with Rebecca, and try to implement that strategy whenever possible.

Not only does it keep the NUT out of my "basket"; It also provides a double benefit to the NUT-source: 1. The NUT is handled, and
2. The NUT source is given a bit of training in the art of NUT-cracking.

May 27, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterclkl

Very nice, Carolyn/clkl - thanks very much.

May 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

My wife spends a lot of her time frazzled and dragging kids around... I forgive her (barely) for not having a UCT on hand at all times. I don't mind having her call up and ask "please remind me to xxxxxxxx" because both of us know that I DO carry and use a UCT, and the information will not be lost from her mind while she's dealing with dirty-nappied, trantruming kids in the queue at the post office.

Not all of us are time-management-nerds - even those of us with the worst time management problems of all. Why is it that parents always seem to deserve/beg for their own special time-management loophole? ("Oh, you must not have kids." How many times have you read that?)

Matt, I like your commitment to maintaining a boundary to your commitments, but isn't Passing On Messages For Friends part of being friends?

I was about to try to write something like 'It's even more complicated between spouces (spice?) where the matrix of responsibility is so shared, fluctuating and complex.' but I guess mrree already did.

cheers matt.

May 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbrent

hey matt - what time-management RSS feeds do you follow?

May 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbrent

Hi brent. ...but isn't Passing On Messages For Friends part of being friends? - Well now, that's a very good question, with an honorable idea behind it. Makes me stop and think, so thank you.

Actually, what you said about parents having a tough time gets to one part of it: Sometimes I get into modes in which I just can't take on even one more commitment. Something has to give...

Again, I appreciate the comment.

My current feeds are [ here | http://www.bloglines.com/public/cornell ], and are usually in flux.

May 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Thanks so much for your post! Unfortunately, I recognized a bit of myself in this. My husband introduced me to GTD and I was enthusiastic about my first brain dump. Because most of my plans directly involved his input or delegation of a task to him, I asked for us to go over most everything I'd come up with. Of course this led to both of us overwhelmed and infuriated. If you could perhaps address this issue, "getting things done for 2", or if you know a good source for advice, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks again for the great info and tips you provide.

May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I asked for us to go over most everything I'd come up with ... both of us overwhelmed and infuriated: That's a great topic, Anonymous - thanks for bringing it up. I think that reaction makes sense - it might have been the first time you've seen all your joint commitments at one time! My wife and I have had this reaction too.

If still you're able to work together, a good step is to try to detach from the lists and look a bit more objectively at what's on them. I find that once I break things down (stuff -> actions), I get some relief because now I have something concrete to *do*.

It's also a good time to move things to Someday/Maybe, and to generally figure out which needs doing and which can wait. And as you mentioned, divvying up the work can help relieve that overwhelmed feeling - I can't tell you the gratitude I feel when my partner takes on something I dread, even if it's relatively small...

Thanks for reading!

May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matthew,
Great post! It's amazing, once a person stumbles onto GTD, how 2nd nature the brain dump becomes. We are moving to NJ in June and without writing everything down, we'd probably go NUTS.

keep up the good work,

May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike St. Pierre

Hi Mike - thanks very much. Best of luck with your move. I had a similar experience moving, albeit on a smaller scale (see [ Another GTD Plus - Moving offices made much easier | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/02/another-gtd-plus-moving-offices-made.html ] ).

May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt,
I work with Dr. Mike Roizen and noticed your post yesterday about the costs of leaving tasks unfinished.
But my comment is about how unique and useful your blog is. It's great, and I'm so glad I found it. Keep up the good work!

May 30, 2007 | Unregistered Commentervickymex2003

Hi Vicky. Thanks very much for your comment - much appreciated. Please pass my thanks on to Dr. Roizen.

May 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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