May 6, 2017
As you know in all my books I teach a pretty firm rule about keeping the Critical Now section at 5 or fewer items. Well, I received a sincere question from a dedicated 1MTD user who asked the following (I am paraphrasing): “What about those days when one emergency after another come rolling in, and if I write them all down I’ll have well over 5 items on my Critical Now list.”
My Standard Answer
Normally what I say is “when you are about to put the 6th item on the list, stop and get something else done that’s already on the list. Or do that new item immediately. Just try to keep the list at 5 or fewer.” Here is an article that discusses that point and more:
Breaking the Rule
But occasionally the ideas in that article won’t help and even I go over 5 items, under the very circumstances he described in his question: an unusually crazy day where events come piling in faster than normal. So I break the rule that day. Every rule is absolute until it must be broken. But only break it with awareness and a heightened sense of responsibility.
Like Breaking a Road’s Speed Limit
It’s sort of like those days you have to break the speed limit driving on a busy road because of a true emergency. If you must do it, do it with a very high sense of responsibility, scanning the road in front of you with great care and great concern and attention. Knowing you have to slow down as soon as you can.
Same with your list when it gets over 5. Keep in your mind “I have to get that list back down to five—it’s a dangerous letting it get big like that, I could drop something,” and just plunge ahead trying to do that. Try as hard as possible to get it back to 5 relatively quickly so that you can take a step down in your heightened awareness—which cannot be maintained accurately that long. And during that time, keep a very sharp eye on that list knowing it is rather risky to have that many critical items piled up. That’s all you can do.
The Rules are to Allow a Reasonable Work Life
The point of the 5 item limit is to allow you to, on most days, relax and enjoy your work, knowing that you have things under control. That was my reason for creating the rule. It’s a tool to create a reasonable work life. But if you temporarily can’t stick to the rules (and the suggestions in that article above just don’t work because it’s such a busy day), and so you must get above 5, only do so with great care. Just focus very carefully on those days.
And don’t make a habit of it. Otherwise you’ll start dropping things. For a maximum sense of control (and thus a more relaxed work day), I like to keep my Critical Now list no bigger than 3 if I can. There are many days it is zero. Remember the definition of that section: you will only put items there that are so critical you would even work all night if they were not done by the end of the day. Keep using that “Going Home Test” and use that section very conservatively.
Here are some more articles about the 1MTD and MYN Critical Now urgency zone rules: