When something new you have to do lands on your desk, it can be tempting to get started with it right away, so that we have it done and off our to-do-list. If we have a lot to do, it feels great knowing at least one thing is out of mind. If we do what was just handed to us, ”volley” it and get it done right away, we feel on top of our game.
A kind of double-trouble
But, doing so is a trap. I have caught myself spending half a day doing tasks rebound-style, just doing whatever gets handed to me right away, and then ”smashing” or send back the finished task as soon as possible. During those hours I felt like a champ responding to emails superfast or doing whatever the emails contained immediately.
And after way too long, we finally remember: we forgot all about our to-do-list! One look at it and we realize that it contained a number of tasks we should have spent our time doing instead, which were more important and had a higher priority than all the emails we have been attending to all day. The rest of the day will be anything but pleasant as we hurry to finish all the tasks that need to get done, and to make it home at a decent hour.
Most recent is rarely most urgent
The most recent task we were given could be the most important or urgent, but often it isn’t. In order to choose what to do next in such a way that we will not regret our choice later, we need to set the newly arrived task in relation to all the other things we have to do, and prioritize whilst considering everything we have to do, not only whatever is right in front of us. Even a task added to the list three weeks ago could be the most prioritized today - more important and urgent than the email that just arrived in your inbox.
Whatever we do, we still get to tick something off our list. And isn’t it just as great getting rid of a task that has been waiting to get done for a while, as something that just got in?
If getting ”sucked into” doing the new and most recently added tasks more than you should instead of doing what you actually need to get done sounds familiar, then do this:
- For the next week, practice handling incoming tasks in a more systematic way; meaning, think twice before delving into that latest email and ask yourself if it really has the highest priority and needs to be processed immediately (if it takes more than two minutes). Do you actually have other tasks that are more important to get done right now?
- You can and should answer the short, ”under-2-minutes”-emails right away, but for the ones that take longer to deal with and which are not obviously prioritized right now - formulate to-do-tasks describing what you need to do. You will also get through your inbox faster than if you would do all the tasks every mail entails as you read them.
- When you prioritize, meaning choose what the right task to do right now is, do so by consulting the to-do-list instead of your email inbox.
- When the week is drawing to a close, look back and make an assessment if this made a difference for you. If it did, continue with this approach. If you did not really get a hang of it, think about what you can adjust or email me, and I will give you some feedback to get you back on track.
You will enjoy it just as much
If you prioritize using the complete collection of everything you have to do that is your to-do-list, you will do things in the right order to a greater extent. You will have fewer unpleasant surprises from realizing that you should have spent the morning doing something completely different, and you get things done with greater foresight.
And, you still get to enjoy finishing tasks since all tasks you complete (both new and old) means one less task on your to-do-list!
What is your way?
How do you ensure that you do not get stuck with doing the most recent tasks and emails? Your tip could help other readers too - share it in a comment.