Thursday, December 29, 2011

What to do TODAY, Part 2: Tasks you aim to do

Welcome to 2012, and to a future of twice monthly posts.

You may have noticed that my last post was three months ago, and you may be wondering how someone who claims to have insight into being more productive could have let that amount of time go by.  I wondered myself! 

Although I am a master procrastinator, I finally concluded that my day job simply became too busy, and so I made choices based on the principle of "first do the work you are being paid to do."  It's a good rule for you to follow as well. 

Now, back to the 5 part series on "what to do today, "  a set of guidelines for creating an effective daily plan. 

If you read the first post in this series, you have had a chance to practice identifying the tasks that must be done each day, and hopefully, doing them.  Haven't read it? Its not too late:  read it now!

To determine if you are using the "must" criteria correctly, note how often you say "oh, I could just do that tomorrow," and move the task to the next day.  If you are moving items forward most days, you are not being sufficiently stringent - and over time this category will cease to have meaning for you.

Remember the rule: a "must-do-today" task is one that must be done today or a bad consequence will follow.

Category 2: Three tasks you aim to do today

In this post we add the second element to the daily plan: select three tasks you aim to do by the end of the day. Remember that these are in addition to the must do tasks.

Why three?

There is absolutely no scientific evidence that 3 is the most effective number. 

However, both "crowd-sourced" data (gleaned from dozens of blogs and books), and some experiences of mine support three as a good guideline.

Here is my experience:

First, if you select only three items you are more likely to complete the list.

The completion of a list is magic.

Think about a time when you made a really long to do list.   Did you feel as if you failed when you did not complete the entire list?

In contrast, if you make a plan to do three "aimed for" tasks and finish all three you will feel tremendously successful. You will be happier and more energetic. Your 401K will improve...  And as a bonus, you may feel up for doing even more tasks- which will make you feel even more successful.

Which do you prefer, the feeling of failure, or the feeling of success?

Second, asked to pick only three tasks, you are more likely to pick items related to high-priority work.

The completion of a high priority list is even more magical.

On a daily task list with no length limit, there will be usually be a mix of urgent, higher priority, and lower priority tasks.

Faced with such a mixed list, I know that I certainly tend to gravitate toward the easier, often low priority tasks,  and away from the very tasks I should be doing first. 

And because many days get away from me early on, I never get to the important stuff. Once again, feelings of failure, unhappiness, and falling energy ensue.

Forced to pick only three tasks, I almost always go for the most important ones.

"Pick Three" is a guideline, not a rule.

The number of aimed for tasks you actually select on a given day needs to be adjusted for your scheduled commitments for the day, and for the length of the "must do" part of the plan.

To whit:

On a  day in which you are completely scheduled in meetings / lab / clinic / class, you can choose to pick only one action in this category, or none at all. 

Limit your total daily plan to 5-10 items, with the total depending on the complexity of each item.  For example, if you have >5 "must do" tasks, or if one "aimed for" task will take at least an hour, pick less than 3.

On the other hand, if you have a day that is completely open, and with few "must do's,"  pick more than 3 aims fors.

Starting tomorrow,  begin each day by creating a daily task list of must do's (however many you have) and aimed for's (three) ).  

Although there is more to the story of "what to do today," by getting started with these two categories you'll immediately feel more focused and on top of your priorities.

Coming soon:  
Category 3: Tasks related to your routine work ("today's work").

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