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19 Apr

Don’t mind the percentages

Datum: 2023-04-19 12:04
Seven floating white cubes with percentage signs on all their sides, in a white space.

The to-do list is an excel­lent tool for keep­ing track of every­thing we need to do, down to the most detailed and minute tasks. In it we write every­thing we need to do which we are not doing imme­di­ate­ly - if it is small enough, mind you.

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

A com­mon mistake

Because you see, one of the most com­mon struc­ture-mis­takes I see my clients mak­ing is that we write down tasks that are too exten­sive on our list. The list does becomes short­er that way, but we rarely get to cross items off our list since every task in real­i­ty con­sists of a num­ber of small­er steps which we might need sev­er­al days to do and com­plete. We then miss out on that sense of accom­plish­ment derived from cross­ing tasks off our list which we could be feel­ing fre­quent­ly, and which is so valu­able to our well­be­ing and per­cep­tion of progress.

The list fades

And besides, when our tasks are too big, the list is not of as much help to us as it could be. We might have the gen­er­al overview on the list, but we still have to keep all the small detailed tasks in our head or on small notes to remem­ber them. The to-do list becomes less of an indis­pens­able tool, and after a while we might sim­ply stop using it, only to even­tu­al­ly real­ize we need it after a few weeks and then resume using the list.

The per­cent­age points to the problem

But how can we deter­mine if a task is too big to be writ­ten on the to-do list? There is a sim­ple way to tell.

Many of the dig­i­tal to-do-list tools have a box” where you can enter how many per­cent of the task you have com­plet­ed, for instance 25% or 75%.

If you get an impulse to write a high­er per­cent­age in the ”% done”-box than what might actu­al­ly be jus­ti­fied, it is a good indi­ca­tion of that the task is too exten­sive” to be on the list in its cur­rent for­mat. You should be able to check off a task when you stop work­ing with it. A task should there­fore not take longer than a day’s work to com­plete, since you will at least stop work­ing on it when you leave the office. Or, per­haps at least when you go to bed.

Do this

  1. If you are using a dig­i­tal to-do list tool that has a ”% done”-box or the likes, skim through your list and see if you might have set a per­cent­age for any of your tasks.
    • If you have — cre­ate a new to-do task that describes what is left to do (or divide what is left into sev­er­al small­er tasks) and check the first task off your list (which gets to rep­re­sent the % you have com­plet­ed so far).
    • Enjoy the great feel­ing of com­ple­tion as you cross off the first part of the larg­er task.
  2. The next time you are about to set for instance 30% done” for a task — hold it right there and for­mu­late a new to-do task instead that describes what is left to do. Check the first task off your list and enjoy your progress. 

The point of it all

If you keep your to-do tasks con­cise and small enough as to stay clear of the ”% done”-box, you will get to check more tasks off your list and feel a greater sense of sat­is­fac­tion with­out in any way hav­ing to work faster or hard­er. You are only mak­ing sure to reward your­self a lit­tle more fre­quent­ly with some­thing as sim­ple as a tick, and you are def­i­nite­ly worth that enjoy­ment.

A word of warn­ing though: you should not divide the already small tasks into unnec­es­sar­i­ly minute, detailed tasks just for the sake of check­ing many things off the list. There is a lim­it to where for­mu­lat­ing to-do tasks takes more time than it is worth. But, most peo­ple are far from hav­ing this prob­lem, so not to wor­ry. You will set­tle at the degree of detail that feels most appro­pri­ate to you and your work, I am sure.

How do you tick tasks off at a rea­son­able rate?

Do you have some oth­er trick for keep­ing the size of the to-do-tasks in check? Do tell me about your best tip.

(And, have you found this trick for quick­ly find­ing all tasks you have to do for a cer­tain col­league?)

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.

Yes, I want more tips!