Advertising
Advertising

Back to Basics: Your Task List

Back to Basics: Your Task List

Todo List

    Everyone makes a task list (or “todo list”) at least now and again. Usually, we wait until we’re overwhelmed with stuff to do, and then we’ll sit down and list everything we need to get done in the next day or two. Then, one by one, we go through the items on our list, do them, and cross them off.

    We do this because it feels better when we do. One minute, you’re at wit’s end, your attention divided 60 different ways, with no idea what to do next, and the next minute you’re in control, with everything neatly plotted: do this, then do that, then do this other thing. And, eventually, we cross the last item off and throw the list out.

    Until the next time we’re overwhelmed.

    Advertising

    We make todo lists when we’re under pressure because they work. Imagine how much better they’d work – and how much more rarely we’d reach that “freaking out” stage – if we simply integrated the list-making into our day-to-day routines.

    Your brain is for doing

    Todo lists are important because every unfinished task you’ve made a commitment to causes stress. What’s more, your brain knows its own limits, so as you add more and more unfinished tasks, your brain starts thinking that some of them aren’t going to get finished – causing even more stress.

    That’s why it feels so good to write that task list – your brain lets out a sigh of relief, knowing that now, at least, it doesn’t have to try to keep track of all that stuff. Your brain doesn’t want to be remembering all the things you haven’t done. It wants to be doing them, so it can feel good about itself. The neurology of all this is a bit more complicated, but that’s the basic idea.

    Of Paper and Processors

    Your todo list doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A pocket notebook, a 3×5 index card, any of about a hundred computerized task lists whether online or off. I use a two-part system.

    Advertising

    I have a section of the same notebook I use for capture that I use to list tasks; it’s marked with a Post-it Tab Divider. I use this as a kind of “task inbox” – what I don’t get done right away gets transferred into an online task manager called Toodledo. I use a computerized one because a) my list is usually longer than a page, and I don’t like having to flip back and forth and sort through finished tasks and unfinished ones to find the one I’m supposed to be doing next, and b) I can sort them by due date instead of by when I thought of it, as well as by project. And, I suppose, c) it’s a lot neater than my handwritten lists.

    It’s helpful to write not just the task but the reason for the task, to give you a pointer to what’s next after you’ve finished any particular task. I use a formula like this:

    • [Action verb][task] for [project or goal]

    For example:

    • Call Caroline at 555-xxxx to transfer insurance into my name (for car registration)
    • Write “Back to Basics” post for Lifehack
    • Grade papers for WMST 113.210 by Wednesday

    Note that I put in all the information I need (or as much as I have available) to complete the task. I don’t want to give myself an excuse not to do it, because I have to go find the phone number or I can’t remember which class folder I need to get. On the first one, I put “for car registration” so I’ll remember when I’m done transferring the insurance that I need to schedule a visit to the DMV.

    Advertising

    Keep it with you

    Whatever format you decide to keep it in, make sure you have access to your list at all times. I use an online system because a) I’m rarely far from a computer, and b) I carry an Internet-enabled smartphone with me at all times. If that weren’t the case, I’d use a paper-only system.

    It’s crucial to have your list available under any circumstance. For one thing, you never know when you might have a few minutes to work on a couple of tasks; if you don’t have your list, you might waste those opportunities. Second, you never know when you might have to add something to the list.

    I keep Toodledo open in my browser at all times when I’m working at the computer; as I process my inboxes, I can easily switch windows and add tasks directly. If you use paper, it’s even easier; lay your notebook in front of you on your desk and add to it as needed. Make a habit of this, so you never have to wait until later to add a todo item – that defeats the purpose!

    What about context?

    If you’re a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, you might be thinking “but what about contexts?” To be honest, I don’t use them, but many people do. The idea is, you keep not just one list but a set of lists, one for each “context” in which you regularly do tasks (or, using a computerized list, you add tags to each list item noting the context it belongs to).

    Advertising

    A context is a place or situation. For instance, you have tasks you do “at home” and tasks you do “at the office” and tasks you do “on the phone” and tasks you do “out and about”. So you have a list of tasks you do on the phone; whenever you have a few minutes and your phone is handy, you can take a look at your “@phone” list and see if there’s a call you could make. When you’re at home, you can look only at the items on your “@home” list. This way, you’re not constantly searching through tasks that you can’t do right now; you only ever look at tasks you can do right this minute.

    Like I said, I don’t use contexts. I work at home, so all my contexts pretty much overlap. But for people who have clearly defined environments they move through over the course of the day, contexts can be a big help.

    Your lists

    What about you? How do you manage your lists? What works for you – and what have you tried that hasn’t worked? Let us know in the comments!

    More by this author

    Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed Back to Basics: Your Calendar

    Trending in Featured

    1 Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor 2 9 Practical Ways to Achieve Work Life Balance in a Busy World 3 50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time 4 8 Steps to Continuous Self Motivation Even During the Difficult Times 5 Where Am I Going? How to Put Your Life in Context

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on June 12, 2019

    Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

    Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

    Humor and laughter provide so many rewards. Studies have shown 20 seconds of laughter yield the same benefits as 3 minutes of hard rowing. A Robert Half International study reported 84% of executives believe a worker with a good sense of humor does a better job. Incorporating humor more effectively in the workplace allows you to defuse difficult situations, reduce stress, create attention for new ideas, build rapport, and be a more approachable and memorable leader.

    With those benefits, it behooves you to hone your workplace comedic skills. So in the tradition of David Letterman, here are the top 10 ways to more effectively lead with humor!

    #10. Look for Joy in Life

    An important step is continually looking for joy throughout your life. This happens in a variety of ways:

    • Focus less on yourself and more on helping others. Need help? Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the classic by Dale Carnegie.
    • Laugh more – kids reportedly laugh 400 times per day vs. 15 times for adults. Aim for laughing 40 times daily to be at least 10% of your former self!
    • Regularly read humorous comic strips and look for quips and funny comments in your reading.
    • Even in challenging situations, hunt for something funny or humorous you can take away.

    #9. Learn What Makes You Laugh

    If you’re trying to laugh 40 times daily, it’s important to know what makes you laugh and have ready access to laugh-provokers. Figure out 107 things which make you laugh. Unrealistic? Hardly! Why 107? Because 107 is funnier than 100! Here’s a recipe for listing what makes you laugh by simply identifying:

    • 13 Movies
    • 11 TV Shows
    • 5 Words or Phrases
    • 19 Personal Stories
    • 5 Cartoons
    • 7 Audio or Video Pieces
    • 11 Comedians
    • 7 TV Personalities
    • 7 Funny Photos
    • 7 People You Know
    • 15 of Anything Else
    • TOTAL = 107 Funny Things

    Collect & save these humor starters in a “Smile File” when you quickly need a laugh or comedic inspiration.

    Advertising

    #8. Use Your Own Comedic Material

    Personal experiences are the most genuine humor sources for effective leadership. Look for humor in situations from your own life:

    • Funny things you have said or others have said to you
    • Pratfalls, be they mental, interpersonal, & physical
    • Embarrassing moments or unexpected happenings
    • Times of change or learning
    • Difficult life events (yes, even these can be humor sources)

    When turning personal situations into comedic material, remember lessons learned from a childhood humor staple: Knock-Knock Jokes. These simple jokes work because the knock-knock structure highlights familiar situations, uses only essential words and phrases, and clearly signals a laughing opportunity. They also demonstrate how humor springs from surprise. The laughs come from not knowing who or what exactly is behind the door based on the initial response to “Who’s there?”

    #7. Adapt Somebody Else’s Material

    Beyond your own experiences, there’s a tradition of “borrowing & adapting” (I didn’t say stealing) funny stuff from others. That’s why old-time comedian Milton Berle was called the “Thief of Bad Gags.”

    Part of borrowing successfully is using easily accessible humor sources in ways many don’t consider. Beyond simply Googling “funny” in front of quotes, one-liners, definitions, pictures, or videos, here are two other common sources you can adapt:

    • Cartoons – You can use cartoons in various ways by showing one in a presentation, telling the cartoon’s story (potentially making yourself a character) without any images, or using its punch line as a starting point for new humor.
    • Comedians – Mainstream comedians’ jokes or catch phrases are another source to modify and adapt to your personality or work situation. Watch lots of comedians and learn how professionals do it so well.

    #6. Understand Your Audience

    Using humor in a leadership position requires understanding boundaries on its proper use. It all starts with really understanding your audience by:

    Advertising

    • Paying attention to top management’s attitudes toward humor.
    • Knowing the audience’s composition – this directly affects which humor types are appropriate.
    • Loving your audience as much or more than you poke fun at them.
    • Inviting others into humor since you can’t assume they share your same humor sensibilities.

    In case you’re contemplating using ad lib humor, completely knowing your audience is even more vital. Ad-libs have the potential for going horribly wrong because audience sensibilities have been misjudged. It’s very beneficial to actually plan and rehearse ad libs. It may sound odd, but identify common work situations you encounter and think through what usually goes wrong or provides a source for potential humor. Work out some “safe” funny comebacks to use as “planned” ad libs.

    #5. Know the Rules and Boundaries

    There are blatant humor no-no’s in the workplace which are quite acceptable for an onstage comedian. At work, avoid harmful practical jokes or pranks, heavily sarcastic comments, and humor rooted in religious, sexual, ethnic, or racial themes. Think you know your work setting well enough to tread on this dangerous ground? Here’s some advice: DON’T. The way questionable humor will be perceived by a workplace audience is too much of an unknown to take big risks when your career is at stake.

    Use this checkpoint to actually see if your intended workplace humor is SAFE. To pass the SAFE test, all of these statements need to be true regarding your joke, comment, or image:

    • I can Say/Show this to my mother.
    • It wouldn’t Anger me if I were the butt of the joke.
    • This wouldn’t trigger an FCC violation
    • Everyone in the audience will be able to get it.

    With even a hint of one false answer, dramatically modify your idea or better yet, abandon it and start over.

    #4. Get over Yourself

    Effective leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re comfortable laughing at themselves and letting others be funny as well. Leaders should become adept at appropriately using self-deprecating humor, i.e., self-directed humor downplaying your own talents, stature, or accomplishments

    Advertising

    You don’t want to use self-deprecating humor on simply any topic, however. It’s most effectively & appropriately used in:

    • Situations where you’re comfortable & self-confident
    • Areas where your credibility & competence are clearly established
    • Ways that fit your known personality & sensibilities

    Remember – when trying to borrow someone else’s self-deprecating humor, you need to share that person’s perspective & situation. If not, it’s simply deprecating! I once heard a decidedly non-technical Marketing VP call out “data geeks” in the audience. While that’s what they called themselves, she wasn’t a part of their group, and her comment, intended to build affiliation, fell completely flat.

    #3. Need Humor Ideas? Just Look Around

    The workplace is filled with situations lending themselves to comedy. Humor springs from exaggeration, wordplay, misunderstandings, ambiguity, contradictions, paradoxes, pain, and inconsistencies. If you work in any type of business or organizational setting, there are plenty of these situations to go around!

    As a leader, it’s your role to use the proper opptunities to encourage and employ humor successfully by ensuring that:

    • Your humor makes others feel good about themselves.
    • Hurtful fun isn’t made of those less tenured than you in the organization.
    • You don’t use humor when agitated since it can lead to apparent meanness.

    #2. Surround Yourself with Joy

    If you’re looking for more joy and levity in leadership, surround yourself with joyful people. These are people who are funny, easily spur laughter, and routinely cheer people up through their presence.

    Advertising

    Cultivate relationships with these types of people. Spend time with them, learn from their successful uses of humor, and emulate elements of their approaches that work for you.

    Beyond basking in the joy these people create, select 3 or 4 of them to be an informal comedy team. As your comedy team, solicit their opinions to help you generate and refine humor ideas. They can also provide perspectives on potentially questionable humor material that makes it through the SAFE test, but still feels like it might not be right for a workplace audience.

    #1. Dive into the Fun

    Ultimately, the most important part of successfully using humor as a leader is actually sharing it in the workplace. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind:

    • Practice your humor in appropriate, low-risk settings to find out what works before trying it out with a bigger audience.
    • Signal a laughing opportunity through your words, actions, and tone. It’s also a good practice to give people “permission” to laugh in the workplace.
    • Finally, be earnest in using humor; don’t focus on laughs so much as lightening and adding fun into work settings.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

    Read Next