Do you complete your tasks? Do you make progress on your task list? I’ve realised recently that my list is not getting shorter because I don’t actually complete many.
I’m a big fan of “little and often” because it helps to reduce the resistance associated with big tasks. It also means I don’t work on one task to the exclusion of other tasks. However, it means I work on a task, cross it off and then add it on to the end of the list. So the list doesn’t get shorter.
If I want to reduce the length of my task list, I need to actually complete some tasks. The oldest two outstanding tasks I can think of are a dress I was making for a wedding in 2006 and the thank-you cards from when my daughter was born; she is now 3 and I’ve had a second baby!
After thinking about it for several weeks, I’ve created a list of reasons why it is important to complete your tasks. I’m hoping this will motivate me to approach my list in a different way. I’m also hoping that I’m not the only person with outstanding tasks and this list will inspire you to complete your tasks.
Reasons why It is important to complete your tasks:
It is good to complete your tasks because
- when you pick up a task you don’t waste time working out where you’d got to
- you don’t forget your ideas on what to do next e.g. what you were going to write in the letter
- you get a wonderful glow when you know you’ve really completed a task
- if you never complete a task and it remains unfinished, you have lost the time that you could have spent on something else
- it reduces the build up of negative feeling each time you remember you haven’t completed a task
- it reduces the length of your task list, enabling you to spend more time on the things you really want to do
- it reduces the likelihood of mislaying or losing things and possibly having to spend time redoing work
- it reduces the possibility of pretending you are making progress on a task when you are really just procrastinating doing busy work
- it helps you feel more in control
How to complete your tasks
So now you understand it is important to complete your tasks, the next step is to work out how you can start completing them. I’ve compiled a few ideas here, but these are just brief introductions. I recommend you start with just one or two, and do some extra reading to work out whether it will work for you.
Have one master list
Make it easier to complete your tasks by only have to look at one place to see them all. It doesn’t matter whether it is a paper or electronic list as long as you use it to capture everything.
Be selective about what goes on your list. Say no more (to yourself as well as others) and only put things on your list that you actually want or plan to do.
Done is better than perfect
Don’t spend more time than necessary on a task. Do what is needed and move on. It was once described to me as don’t create a limosine when a bike will do.
Create a week and day list
It is very easy to look at a long list and get overwhelmed or distracted by what else you could (or worse feel should) be doing. Instead, at the start of the week pick the items you want to complete and create have a shorter list just for those. And when you’ve completed those you can go back to your full list and complete some bonus tasks.
Review your time
For a week write down how you spend your time and identify any barriers that get in the way of your tasks. For example, is your time filled with meetings which mean you don’t have time to do work, or do you plan time and end up using it for something else. What can you change?
Review your list
As time passes some tasks will no longer be needed and you will decide you don’t want to do some of them anymore. Make sure you review your list and remove them. As well as making you feel better, a shorter list will make it easier to see the priority tasks.
Create task focused time blocks
Block out time in your calendar to work on certain tasks. You could go deep on one task or batch several for example completing tasks that need to be done in certain software or location.
Prioritise your tasks
There are lots of different methods for prioritising your tasks, the most well known is the important / urgent matrix. You can also develop your own approach such as basing it around your work objectives. Once your list is prioritised look at the items in the lowest prioritity and consider if you can remove them from your list completely.
Use a task management approach
There are lots of approach such as GTD (Getting Things Done), and Do It Tomorrow. Pick one to test and see if it helps you. But be aware that setting up a system is not the same as getting tasks complete. Also, none of the systems are magic and you need to follow it, otherwise the set up time is just procrastionation.
Create a backburner list
Backburner items are tasks that
- you might want to do in the future and want to capture somewhere or
- you can’t do now because something else needs to happen first.
Get these off your master task list and keep it focused on tasks you can action now.
Turn tasks into actions
When you add an item to your list make sure it starts with a verb so when you come to work on it you know what action you need to do.
Work on a single task at a time
By working on one task at a time you’ll make more progress on it, than if you’re switching between multiple activities. Keep focused.
In summary, it is important to complete your tasks because it helps you feel better, helps you identify what you should be working on and together that means you complete more tasks. It is a positive increasing circle.
Have these ideas helped me complete my tasks?
Not necessarily more in terms of the number of things I’m crossing off my list, but I’m certainly completing more of the high value tasks so it feels like I’m making more progress and adding more value.
At work, I’ve developed an approach that starts with my key work areas and I identify priority areas for each quarter, month and week which help me select tasks for my daily list. The area I’d like to improve next is reviewing my list to remove tasks that I no longer want to do or are no longer relevant. I do a quick review each week, but I suspect there are still tasks on there that could be cut.
Do you struggle to complete tasks? What is your oldest outstanding tasks? What helps you complete tasks? How do you make sure you’re working on the best tasks?
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I decide what to cut from my task list?
Consider removing any of the following from your task list, tasks
- that are no longer relevant or needed
- you don’t want to do
- you can ask someone else to do
- that are the lowest priority – ask yourself are you likely to ever get to them
- you can’t work on at the moment – add them to a backburner list
What is the best way to play your day?
This comes down to personal choice and what works for you. However, it is often good to plan the evening before so you can start work on meaningful tasks straight away. It is also good to not overplan. Be realistic about how much you can complete in a day because you want to get to the end of the day with a sense of achievement not disappointment.
What is the best way to keep track of your tasks?
The short answer is in one place. The longer answer considers other information you may want to include in your tracking, such as deadlines. Track the minimum amount of information that helps you identify priority tasks otherwise you can spend too much time keeping your list up to date.
How do you create a day task list?
Start by looking at your calendar. What tasks need to be completed today, tomorrow or this week? Make sure you are including time to work on those. Next think about major projects what you can you do now that will help you make progress on those. Finally look back at your calendar, how much time do you have to work on tasks today, pick a small number of tasks you will prioritise. Remember, if you complete those you can identify some bonus tasks on your master list.
Do I need to use a task management system?
No. There are many systems that different people find useful, but it is important that you find an approach that works for you. That might be taking a system such as GTD and using it as David Allen describes, it could be taking a few ideas from this post or taking ideas from different places and creating your own system. What is important is you have a system that you will be use.