Back when I first started working on my productivity system, my primary goal was to be in control of my tasks. I wanted to know which tasks were most important and what I should be working on at any given moment. And I wanted those two things to be connected. Most of all, I desired to work on tasks that would move me closer to achieving what was important for me. Over the past five years, I’ve built a system that helps me realize that vision. Let me show you how I connect the dots!
I like to know for certain that my day’s been productive. Every day in the evening, I evaluate this. How? I check to see if I managed to do three MITs that day. If the answer is yes, then I know I’ve had a productive day. What are MITs? They are Most Important Tasks. Why MITs? Why three? You’ll find the answers to all of these questions below.
Each of you probably has a todo list. I'm sure that you have a lot of tasks there--more than you are able to process in a day. It doesn’t matter what methodology you use to manage your tasks, it’s simply not possible to do everything in one day! At some point, you have to choose what’s most important for a given day.
I deal with this challenge by defining three of my most important tasks for the day (MIT). I have a list of tasks that I need to do in a given week (I create this list every Friday; there will be a separate blog post about this). This list has a maximum of 20 elements, so choosing the right tasks for the day is not that hard. I scan that list searching for tasks that fulfil the criteria below:
- I have to do it in a given day - I try to avoid situations where I have to do something on a given date, but sometimes I have such tasks. They will be chosen as MITs.
- I want to do it because I want to see progress on a project - I like to see that things are moving in the right direction, and that I am closer to finishing the project.
- Someone is waiting for me to finish a task and I do not want to hinder that person.
- I want to do the task because I like it and it will be a pleasure to work on it (like writing a blog post :).
- The task is part of a bigger project and I know that I need to finish it by a given deadline.
- The task is quick and I know that I can finish it even if my day is very busy (for example, call someone, which is something I can do between meetings).
I’ve noticed that three MITs per day is an optimal number. Usually I can commit to finishing that number of tasks. If I chose more, I would risk not being able to finish them, and I would have to postpone them to the next day. If that happens, the tasks really start to pile up.
A lot of times, I’m tempted to mark more than three tasks as MITs because I consider a lot of tasks to be important. Then I try to remind myself of my rule, which states that if everything is the most important, then in reality nothing is! It’s up to me to choose what is really important on a given day.
To summarize, every day in the morning I have a list of tasks I want to do first. It looks like this:
In practice, I try to finish these tasks as early as possible, starting my day with them. Some time ago I wrote about how my mornings look. I work on my MITs before 9AM, using the Pomodoro technique. If I manage to complete all my MITs in the morning, the rest of the day is much calmer. I have a lot of energy for other things that I want to do. I know that the most important things are done. And it’s a great feeling to know that I’ve had a productive day!
How do you choose your tasks for the day? How do you know what to do next? Let me know how you deal with this!
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.