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20 Sep

Choosing the right verb is essential

Datum: 2017-09-20 08:04

When we for­mu­late what we have to do that we will not do imme­di­ate­ly, a good way to appro­pri­ate­ly lim­it the to-do-task to a size that makes it attrac­tive rather than some­thing we post­pone, is to include a verb in every task. Call” is a verb”, write” anoth­er; email” is one, and reg­is­ter” yet another.

Lit­tle Pandora’s boxes
I have pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed the imprac­ti­cal­i­ty of choos­ing tricky verbs such as fix”, get” or make sure” since these par­tic­u­lar verbs can in fact hide entire projects rather than be some­thing we do in a sin­gle go (such as Get a new client in the East­ern region”). If the task is too big, we might take a look at it, think to our­selves Right, we need to get a new client” and then just move on in the to-do-list and choose a task that can be done imme­di­ate­ly — because we want to tick some­thing off” our list.

An action only you need to do
I recent­ly worked with a client who made me aware of a seem­ing­ly small, but still treach­er­ous, verb-trap. Most of us work with tasks and roles that involve oth­ers in some way: either we meet, check in with, sit down with, or dis­cuss some­thing with oth­ers. And even if meet” indeed is a verb, the ques­tion is if we are wise to for­mu­late a task using it, such as Meet [some­one] and dis­cuss [some­thing]”.

We want to keep our tasks as action-ori­ent­ed as pos­si­ble so that it becomes easy to decide when to do what, but if we are to be suc­cess­ful in meet­ing some­one, the per­son in ques­tion needs to appear at the same place as we are in at the same time. It is hence more like­ly that we encounter one anoth­er if we have made an appoint­ment (day and time). Wouldn’t you then agree that make an appoint­ment with” is the more appro­pri­ate way to phrase the task in this case, or per­haps even sug­gest a time for a meeting”.

These details might appear insignif­i­cant and tri­fle, but believe me when I say that it is often the small­est things that make life dif­fi­cult, some­thing I see proof of often when work­ing with my clients.

Do this
If you want to avoid falling into this ambigu­ous trap, skim through your to-do-list right now and check for two things:

  • that you have includ­ed a verb in every to-do-task

  • if you have cho­sen a verb which you might want to exchange for some­thing else for any of your tasks — one that is only depen­dent on you doing some­thing in order to tick the task off your list (”sug­gest a time” instead of meet”), or one that more clear­ly defines or describes what you will do (”call and tell her” rather than involve” or anchor with”).

Get mov­ing faster
If you choose your verbs more care­ful­ly and there­by make your to-do-tasks more dis­tinct, you will (if you are any­thing like myself and many of my clients) be tempt­ed to get going with the thing you want­ed done when writ­ing the task down in the first place. Instead of hav­ing a list full of musts and ambigu­ous things or events that will or might hap­pen some­time soon, you will have made the step from writ­ing a task down to get­ting it done a whole lot small­er. You will spend an extra sec­ond or two think­ing of what verb that would best describe what you need to do, but in exchange you will waste con­sid­er­ably less time when you are up to speed and want to move on with get­ting the next task done.

What words do you choose?
Have you noticed any oth­er dis­ad­van­ta­geous ways to for­mu­late our to-do-tasks? Feel free to write a com­ment and share.