Friday, June 11, 2021

What to do TODAY, Parts 2 & 3 Redux

Last week, I received an email with a new blog post from... ME!

This was a big surprise since I not written anything new.

More careful examination revealed that this post was actually published in 2012.

The "re-issue" was a complete accident!

(I was looking at old content in my blogging platform the day before, and must have accidentally clicked the "Publish" button. Yikes! )

But then I thought more about the topic, how to make an effective daily task plan. It's a foundational strategy, and most of you have not seen it before.

So, maybe not such a big mistake after all...

Then, I realized that some of you may be waiting with bated breath for the promised Parts 2 and 3.

Today you can exhale.

With no further ado: What to do today, Redux.

A paper template version for a daily plan:

Part 1: Tasks that must be done today.

Identify tasks that must be done today because there is an external deadline of today, or, you have promised someone else you will do it today. (That is, use external, not internal criteria.)

Some (many) days you will have nothing on this part of the plan. BECAUSE ON SOME DAYS THERE ARE NO TASK DEADLINES or PROMISES DUE.

Part 2: Tasks you aim to do.

Aim-to-do tasks are tasks you would very much like to do today, but that are not DUE today.

Aim-to-do's should be high-priority tasks that will move important work forward.

These are typically tasks you would not get to in the flow of a normal busy day. They are "in addition to" your regular routine tasks.

The list should be short.
  • On most days, three or fewer is a good guideline.
  • On a heavily scheduled day, you might have only one.
  • If you have a day with lots of discretionary time, you can increase the number past 3, but list them in priority order.

Part 3: Triage new tasks

Planning your day in detail does not mean it will go that way!

What will help you stay on track?


As I am sure you know, triage originally referred to the battlefield practice of sorting persons with injuries into those who needed immediate treatment and those who could wait. It's still used in emergency rooms everywhere.

You can triage new tasks that show up as well - no injuries required!

The core question: "Must this new task be done today?"

If the answer is YES: add it to your MUST do's.

If the answer is, in your opinion, NO, the decision to defer depends on who is wanting the task done. 

If a colleague or someone who you supervise is asking:
  • Explain that today is not a good day, and choose a mutually agreeable completion date. (By the way, you will have now made a promise that must be kept by the appointed time.)

If it's your boss (or other "up-the-chain" person:
  • You can agree to do it, or, consider negotiating. You'll usually know instinctively which is the right choice.

If this is YOU thinking you "should" do the task today:
  • Ask yourself, "Is this new task either more important or more urgent than the remaining tasks on my aim-to-do list?
  • If it is, swap out one of the remaining aim-to-do tasks you had planned with this new task.
  • Otherwise, defer, and write the task at the bottom of the daily plan list. You could have a section named "to do when I am done with my musts /aims."

"Triaged" daily plan with new tasks added in red

Finally, use these metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of your plans.

MUST do tasks:
  • Deadlines are being met and promises are being kept
  • Tasks from this list are only rarely deferred to another day.
AIM to do tasks:
  • On most days you complete these tasks.
  • Your highest priority work is moving forward.
  • New tasks are (mostly) not displacing more important or urgent tasks on your plan.
  • All deferred tasks are recorded so that you don't forget them.