There is a constant stream of tasks you have to do. You are good at dealing with this. You get all these tasks off your mind by adding them to your todo list. And then you do your tasks one by one… But have you ever considered if you have to do all tasks you’ve added to your todo list?
There is a great threat in being productive. You might be productive just to do more within the time you have. But is this the point? No! I strongly believe that being productive is about doing the right things in the right way to have more time for life :)
Today I’m writing about how you can choose the right things to do. This is a broad subject, so I'm focusing on the first steps you can take to decide which task should be done.
Some time ago I had a huge problem with choosing what to do next. I was adding all the tasks that came to my mind to my todo list and doing them one by one. There were just too many of them. I had to figure out how to choose which tasks to do. Below I’ve described three simple techniques which will help you to choose the right things to do.
1. Ask “why.”
When I process my todo list, for each item I ask myself the question “Why should I do this?” Sometimes we add new tasks in a rush, just not to forget about them. After some time, tasks may become irrelevant. If you can’t answer the question “Why?” in a way that satisfies you, maybe you shouldn’t do the task. Just cross it out and spend your time and energy on another, more important one that you actually have a reason for doing.
2. Split tasks into two categories: “has to be done now” and “someday/maybe.”
You know why you want to do the task. Now it’s time to ask yourself the question “Does this task have to be done now, or can it be postponed?” And “now” for me means within the next two weeks. If it can be postponed, I move this task to a separate list called “someday/maybe.” I’ve noticed that in this category I put tasks about reading a book, watching a movie, checking a new concept, etc.--basically everything I’ve added to my todo list that I want to remember, but I have no time to do right away. I review the “someday/maybe” list every week and cherry pick the tasks that I want to start on.
3. Write the “definition of done” for each task.
The third but equally useful technique of deciding if I am doing the right thing is writing a “definition of done” for the task. I’ve already answered two questions: “why” and “when.” Now it is time to describe what it means to finish the task. Usually it is one, maybe two sentences added as a note to the task. It is useful because:
- It allows you to check one more time what you want to achieve by doing the task. Maybe you need to rephrase it, add some details, or split it into a few smaller tasks.
- You have a very well-defined success criteria. When you are done with the task, it is easy to check if you’ve accomplished your goal by referring to your “definition of done” for that task.
It may seem like a cumbersome process to do this for each task. However, when you get used to it, it only takes a few seconds to apply these techniques to tasks. I save a lot of time thanks to this approach. Usually I eliminate 30-40% of tasks from my inbox either by removing them or by moving them to the “someday/maybe” list. Do you want to try out these techniques? Let me know what your conclusions are afterwards :)
This approach is inspired by the “Getting Things Done” methodology by David Allen (GTD). What I’ve described above is a small part of the task processing approach I use for every task. You can start with simple actions like these to begin using the GTD methodology and work in a more efficient way.