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.
- 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.
- 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?)