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What Does Your Task List Say About You

What Does Your Task List Say About You
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Hello there! I am your task list. I am one of the biggest contributors to your overall productivity, and I have something to tell you. Now hear my voice!

1. But I don’t have a task list!

Do you actually like being reactive and constantly in fire-fighter mode? Not having a task list probably causes you to have problems seeing the big picture and setting priorities in your life. When was the last time when you felt truly proud of your accomplishments?

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2. But I have problems accessing it!

Think about any moment of the day. Home. Work. Shopping. How long does it take you to access your task list? Does it take five seconds, or maybe a minute or two? “I need to go upstairs, open my laptop, log in, open a browser, log into this great portal and then I have it”. Face it, you are rarely using it, and you don’t really believe it is helping you. It helps you to avoid forgetting things, but it has never actually made you productive.

3. But there isn’t any fun!

Scan through your list of tasks. Be honest: are you experiencing any positive emotions? Do you feel any excitement about any of these? If not, let’s face it–you are just living a boring life. Your face is probably sad for most of the day, and you probably read a lot about this “procrastination” stuff. Think of ways you could add some fun to your tasks, and you will immediately notice the difference!

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4. But I do not know what to do!

Look at every task on your list. If you were supposed to complete any of these tasks right now, would you know exactly what to do? If not, it means you are too quick. You can catch a glimpse of an idea, but you never get down to structure, and thus, the tasks lack clarity and precision. They are just floating on the surface. If you just slowed down a little bit and worked on details, your tasks would call for an action. Otherwise, your list just becomes a home for old tasks.

5. But there are so many old tasks!

Now think about the moment when you added each of the tasks to the list. What is the average age of each task? If it is weeks or months rather than days, you are probably a great planner, but you’re not being realistic. Your favorite word may be “tomorrow” or “later”. The thing you desperately need is to be clear and precise, to add more fun or to simply SIT DOWN AND DO IT RIGHT NOW!

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6. But I don’t know what is most important!

Open your task list and explain to others what the difference between “urgent” and “important” is? If you can’t, you probably have never sat down and established priorities in your life and in your work. When picking the next task to execute, you simply take the most urgent first. The truth is, without priorities you can be good, but you will never be great.

7. But I don’t have any “Done” category!

When you finish your task, it immediately disappears from the list. You probably like to run fast, but you do not stop or slow down to do any kind of retrospection on the last week, month or year. Are you sometimes doing the same mistakes over and over again? What if you spent just five minutes going over the list of tasks you accomplished last week and delete them just after? This is a great way to be proud of yourself and actually learn something.

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8. But I do not track delegated tasks!

Do you simply delete tasks that were delegated to others? Then you are probably a “not my problem” type of person and people rarely trust your accountability. Or maybe you keep track of the tasks forever and ask about updates every day. Now you know why people are so annoyed with you. Ideally, you should keep track of the delegated tasks and react only when necessary.

Now spend one more minute looking at your task list, is there anything more that it is trying to tell you?

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More by this author

Piotr Nabielec

Author, CEO, Consultant

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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