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22 May

Complete the small things in a few hours

Datum: 2023-05-22 10:00
A lonely camel in a sand desert at noon.

If we pri­or­i­tize con­scious­ly and delib­er­ate­ly we will get the most impor­tant tasks done — some well ahead of when they are due, and oth­ers just before dead­line. But then there are all those small things that need to get done as well …

One could argue that they are impor­tant since were they to get done, they would con­tribute to the attain­ment of our goals, but the tasks them­selves are rather vague and their dead­lines are so ambigu­ous that they rarely or nev­er qual­i­fy into what we per­ceive as urgent”. We might want to do them as soon as pos­si­ble”, but there is no harm done if we wait just a lit­tle longer with get­ting around to doing them.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

The straw that broke the camel’s back

How­ev­er, they are not so unim­por­tant that we would con­sid­er remov­ing them from our list entire­ly. We still want to do them. Soon. Just not right now, because we are cur­rent­ly deal­ing with some­thing more urgent.

And there they are — they sim­ply remain on the list, week after week. Our eyes pass them by when scan­ning the to-do-list for what to do next. In spite of choos­ing to com­plete oth­er tasks, it irri­tates us that we some­how can­not seem to get going with these small tasks and final­ly be done with them. They most like­ly pile up over time too, and even­tu­al­ly they tru­ly begin to both­er us.

If we are prone to be harsh on our­selves, we might just tell our­selves to get a grip and just do them”. But before we resort to this strict approach, allow me to sug­gest that we take a slight­ly soft­er tone towards our­selves and opt for an eas­i­er way instead.

No point split­ting them into pieces

If they would have been more exten­sive tasks, one strat­e­gy would have been to split them into small­er steps which would have been eas­i­er to com­plete, but con­sid­er­ing that they are already small, we are bet­ter off approach­ing them with the sec­ond uni­ver­sal­ly approved strat­e­gy for get­ting rid of pro­cras­ti­nat­ed tasks: reserve time in the cal­en­dar for doing them.

Let us have a lit­tle time-out and take a whole morn­ing of get­ting-things-done”, mean­ing, doing all the lit­tle things we keep being remind­ed of and that obscures our view and focus, ulti­mate­ly dis­tract­ing us from con­cen­trat­ing on oth­er things on the to-do-list.

Try this

If you now, or at least very soon, want to rid your­self of the small but annoy­ing tasks that you con­tin­u­ous­ly post­pone, then

  1. Skim through your to-do-list and mark the small, post­poned tasks. High­light them with a par­tic­u­lar col­or, a tag, a sym­bol or some­thing else that sets them apart from the rest.
  2. Search through your cal­en­dar for a morn­ing when, if your assump­tion is accu­rate, things will be a lit­tle calmer. For me per­son­al­ly, this time occurs a few weeks from now. If it should turn out to be rather far into the future when you take a look at your sched­ule, so be it. It is more impor­tant to make this morn­ing of get­ting things done hap­pen at all, rather than being too ambi­tious which might result in us post­pon­ing the morn­ing even further.
  3. When the des­ig­nat­ed morn­ing arrives, choose to work on the tasks you have marked as small”, or if your to-do-list is dig­i­tal, fil­ter the list so that you only see the small­est tasks and com­plete as many as you can in the time you have set aside for this very purpose.
  4. If you should feel inspired by final­ly doing these annoy­ing and post­poned tasks but are not able to fin­ish before the time is up, find a new morn­ing in the cal­en­dar some­time soon when you con­tin­ue this grat­i­fy­ing work.

Tick after tick after tick

If you reserve a morn­ing for doing all the lit­tle tasks you nev­er oth­er­wise get around to, you will have a few grat­i­fy­ing hours of com­plet­ing one pro­cras­ti­nat­ed task after anoth­er, and as a bonus, you will get to tick lots of items off your to-do-list. You will feel lighter after­wards and the list will be slimmed down sig­nif­i­cant­ly. It will then become eas­i­er to see the tasks that are both impor­tant and urgent, since lit­tle yet numer­ous tasks that may be impor­tant, but not urgent are no longer clut­ter­ing the list. It will result in less frus­tra­tion and you will be able to work more concentrated.

What method do you use?

How do you get all those small tasks done quick­ly? Do you have some good habit that sup­ports you or a clever trick that you could share? Tell me!

(By the way, did you know that you can make it eas­i­er to tick things off?)

A middle age man is listening to a podcast in sports headphones while running in a beautiful landscape on a sunny morning.

If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

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