Monday, July 13, 2020

Not getting anything important done? Try an MIT list.

The problem.

At the end of the day, do you sometimes find you did not work on any of your top priorities?  

This used to happen to me all the time until I started creating a daily Most Important Tasks (MIT) list.

People sometimes think that if they know what work is a high priority, they will automatically turn to those tasks first. 

And while that sometimes does happen, at least two realities can get in the way.
  • Our memory is not good at remembering or prioritizing tasks.
  • The combination of routine work and new urgent work can easily soak up all our available time. 
We can overcome these realities by choosing our priority tasks in advance, writing them down, and then aggressively "shoehorning" them among those other tasks.

The MIT list.

A Most Important Task (MIT) list is a place to record your top priority tasks for the day.

To implement: 
  1. Find a piece of paper.
  2. Pick your 3 highest priority tasks for the day and list them in priority order
  3. Get to these tasks as early in the day as possible, in order to minimize the risk of running out of time.  Aim to complete or start the first MIT before you do any other work.
  4. Keep the list where you can check it frequently.
  5. Check the list one final time before you stop work for the day, and see if you can finish items that remain.

You now have the information you need to get started.  If you still have questions, keep reading!

The most frequently asked question: 

Since this method can not create more time, how will I get these "extra" things done on top of all my other work?

Good question!

While it is true that creating this list does not create more time, it can lead to better use of the time you already have.  
  • Work often expands to fill the time allotted. The corollary is also true: the time needed to do some work "contracts" if less is available.  If you do your MIT's first, you may find you can fit much of your other work into less time. 
  • Some routine work, as well as some new tasks masquerading as "urgent," can be safely postponed to the next day.    
  • Finishing an MIT can increase your energy, helping you power through the rest of the day.

"Operational" FAQs

Why "3?"

The number 3 is an arbitrary choice, but one that fits the rule that an MIT list should contain only high priority tasks and be short enough to complete.

Here's why. A long daily list will inevitably have a mix of high and low priority items, and two things can happen: 
  1. First, you will probably not complete the list, which can lead to a feeling of failure. 
  2. Second, a long list usually has several enticing easy items of low priority that can be completed quickly.  Personally, I am attracted to these tasks!   But at the end of the day, I am left feeling discouraged that I did nothing important.
To summarize, by imposing the constraint of picking only 3 tasks I am more likely to choose high priority ones.   ("Hmm... should I refile my stapler or file my tax return?")

OK. But can I choose a different number if I want?

Less than 3?  Absolutely. In fact, choosing just one may be a good way for you to get started with the method. You can also pick a smaller number any time you have a highly scheduled day. 

More than 3?  Yes, but only if you promise you will prioritize the list and stick to the order!

Even better, draw a line under the top three MIT's and below that line add the additional tasks to do if you have time

Some criteria to help you pick your MIT's
  • An externally imposed deadline is today.
  • You made a promise it would be done today.
  • The task will move high priority work forward.
  • You have been putting off a task, and this is causing stress.
Do I have to use a piece of paper?

No!   You can use any "recording" tool you like.

Digital: The note app on your phone; a "sticky note" app on your computer;  the "Today" view in a list manager app (e.g. iPhone Reminders, Microsoft To Do),
Paper:  An index card; a Post-It(TM); a Bullet Journal.

I once had a client (really!) who wrote her list on her hand.... 👍

Send me comments or questions at