How to Handle Backlog Overload: Dump It
A couple of years ago I realized the older I was getting, the more stressed I was becoming about my backlog. Subjectively, I wanted to do everything on my list. Objectively, it was impossible. Even if I happened across Shangri-La and lived an extra hundred years, it was a steep challenge.
You see, my backlog is currently eleven pages long. It's divided into these categories.
Misc Marriage Health and Fitness - Karate - Fencing - Other - Food Learning and Self-Improvement Career - Apps - Job Hunt - To Try/Use - Security - Misc Music Writing - Titles - Prompts, Other - About Writing/Inspiration To Read To Watch To Organize
In Getting Things Done (GTD), it's OK to have a Someday/Maybe list, where dreams go to slowly decay. I had several of these lists, in Google Docs, Google Keep, physical notebooks, and elsewhere.
I also collected web site bookmarks. If it was interesting, and I didn't read it then, I'd bookmark it. You can imagine. Every few months I'd discover I had a hundred bookmarks--a couple of week's worth of full-time reading (let alone comprehension). I'd beat myself up for being a lazy ass.
Things finally came to a head when one day I couldn't work because I was overwhelmed by all the bookmarks in front of me. I couldn't do them. I couldn't delete them. I couldn't look at them.
What was I going to do?
The Pomodoro Technique suggests writing down your distractions while keeping focused on the task at hand, and dealing with them later. I asked myself a simple question:
What if I treated my backlog and bookmarks as distractions?
Could I daily throw everything into a grotesque backlog that I didn't look at until Sunday? Would it be OK with me to archive my bookmarks--knowing I could find the info--and start fresh each week?
That's what I did, and still do with some tweaks. Want to try it yourself?
1. Collect all your backlog items ("someday I might do this") into one place.
I wrote everything in a Google Write document. I then recited this...
"Dude, it's perfectly OK if you never do any of this. It'll always be here for you to come back to."
2. Make it easy to jot down backlog items during the day.
I use Google Keep for this. I have a note called "Backlog Dump," and I just write down whatever it is that's distracted me at the moment and leave it completely alone until the end of the week. I tell myself,
"You'll most likely delete these, because they won't be so shiny anymore."
3. Export all your bookmarks...
- In Google Chrome, open the Bookmark Manager
- Export bookmarks
- Put the file in a computer folder such as Bookmark Archives, and name it so it will sort alphabetically, e.g. "20180424 Chrome.html"
"It's like your own little Google."
4. ...then delete them
This was when I knew I was doing the right thing. I deleted all my bookmarks--I had them saved, after all. Then I created two--yes, two!--folders:
The Quick folder had a few links I knew I'd need to check almost every day. The Backlog folder held anything that distracted me. I could just drag and drop into it and...like my Keep note...forget about them. (I could also use this for temporary bookmarks).
"You rarely need to keep a web site bookmark, because you almost always search for the site again next time. Besides, by searching, you might find something new and better."
5. Every week, without fail, purge
Every Sunday, I take a couple of hours and do a weekly update/review. For my Backlog Dump, I decide if I really might someday do whatever it is. If so, I move the item to my true backlog document. If not, I delete it.
For the bookmarks, I export, then go through each backlog link and decide if I'm going to read it right then. Do I care enough? If not, I delete it or maybe let myself hold onto it another week or two...but I can't have more than ten backlog links at the beginning of any week.
"It's OK to not save this stuff. If you're really interested, you'll find it again."
What Am I Doing Now?
Pretty much the same thing. After a year, I found I could keep a small number of bookmark folders always available. I still purge most of what I collect each week. I empty my Backlog Dump each week.
And I actually do some of the things I set aside, because I no longer feel I have to do all of it.
Dump It, You'll Like It
Don't let your backlog control you. It's like storing up all those odds and ends thinking you'll use them some day, then you can't get your car in the garage. The method above lets you "throw them away" from your daily life without losing them forever. I think it's a good compromise. It has certainly dropped a boulder of guilt from my shoulders.