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26 Nov

Four elephants is very different from five ants

Datum: 2014-11-26 10:06

In our dai­ly life at work we have some tasks which are done in no time and oth­ers which require more time and effort. Some tasks can be done imme­di­ate­ly. Oth­ers need more time and we have to return to them and do a lit­tle at a time in order to com­plete it. It may not be fin­ished until sev­er­al weeks lat­er after which we are grant­ed the plea­sure of tick­ing it off our to-do-list.

It is a good idea to keep these two types of tasks apart since they are two very dif­fer­ent things. When we make note of the short tasks, we write down exact­ly what we will do. But as we add the longer tasks to the to-do-list, we phrase them in terms of what we want to ulti­mate­ly accom­plish by the com­ple­tion of many short­er tasks done con­sec­u­tive­ly (which are hope­ful­ly on our to-do-list as well).

Longer tasks tend to be phrased along the lines of Estab­lish­ing in Nor­way”, New intranet”, The par­ent-teacher con­fer­ences”, Build­ing­pro­ject X”, Fall kick-off”, Improved rou­tines for refunds” and Deliv­ery for client Y”, while the short­er tasks are for­mu­lat­ed using verbs such as write”, send”, gath­er”, ask”, email” and sched­ule”.

I some­times feel that I can­not empha­size the impor­tance of keep­ing short and long tasks apart enough. Hence, allow me to draw your atten­tion to this vital dis­tinc­tion once again.

The list divid­ed into layers
As I see it, we need to have one to-do-list for those short and imme­di­ate­ly doable tasks, and one overview of the tasks we are respon­si­ble for com­plet­ing. Every longer, more exten­sive task which I want to progress with needs to at all times have at least one prop­er to-do-task on the to-do-list as its next step (or on some­one else’s to-do-list as you are wait­ing for them to do some­thing). We should be able to be rest assured that if we do the tasks on the to-do-list we will undoubt­ed­ly progress in the more exten­sive and more ambigu­ous items on the overview.

If we sep­a­rate long and short tasks we can con­scious­ly go between the strate­gic per­spec­tive where we look at the whole pic­ture and the oper­a­tive per­spec­tive from which we exe­cute all the things that need doing. If we mix the short­er and longer tasks on one to-do-list, the longer tasks are eas­i­ly left unat­tend­ed to and there­by even­tu­al­ly turn into sour­doughs which we pro­cras­ti­nate. We repeat­ed­ly notice them on the list, but since we have not defined the next short task we can do to move for­ward with the task, we tend to choose the short tasks (which con­cern oth­er things) since they are much more con­crete, tan­gi­ble and hence eas­i­er to get start­ed with. 

If you feel over­whelmed by all the longer, exten­sive tasks you need to com­plete at some point, then break­ing it down into small grad­ual steps is an effec­tive way to reduce your stress. And if we then have all the long tasks on a sep­a­rate list, it is eas­i­er to define the short­er steps which make up the entire task as to-do-tasks on the to-do-list. But if we mix long and short tasks, the short next steps and longer tasks become jum­bled up so that we even­tu­al­ly have a list that part­ly con­tain all the con­crete things we have to do and part­ly those things we can­not do in a sin­gle go but will accom­plish even­tu­al­ly. The to-do-list will become more of a bit-of-every­thing-list rather than the use­ful tool it is intend­ed to be.

Do this

  1. Take time to think about where you could keep your com­plete overview of the longer tasks, projects and change-ini­tia­tives you are respon­si­ble for com­plet­ing. Focus on mak­ing it com­pre­hen­si­ble, easy to get an overview of and acces­si­ble. Will you make an ordi­nary list? Do you draw a mindmap to cre­ate a visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your tasks? Do you cre­ate a Gantt-table in a spread­sheet? Do you reserve a wall in your office for Pos­tIts which are grad­u­al­ly moved to the right as the tasks approach­es completion?

  2. Cre­ate your com­plete overview. That is to say, emp­ty your head of all the more exten­sive tasks you can think of which you are respon­si­ble for and skim through your to-do-list for tasks which actu­al­ly require more than one step to com­plete. You might have a com­mon project-man­age­ment-sys­tem at your com­pa­ny or per­haps you work with visu­al man­age­ment of your com­mon projects. For most peo­ple it is worth to put in a lit­tle extra effort and add the projects you are involved in from these com­mon loca­tions as well so that you cre­ate a tru­ly com­pre­hen­sive overview of all the tasks and projects you need to com­plete or are part of.

  3. Skim through the overview and make sure that you have defined a next step (or action” if you wish) for each and every one of the longer tasks you want to progress with. It can be some­thing you will do (and which is not­ed as an item on your to-do-list) or some­thing you are wait­ing for some­one else to do.

  4. Deter­mine how often you want to skim through the overview like this and when it suits you best to do so. Many do this a few times every month dur­ing a calmer part of time of day. You could for instance sched­ule a recur­ring meet­ing with your­self so that you real­ly take the time to do it.

Get less con­fused and get more done
If you keep the short to-do-tasks sep­a­rate from the longer projects or changes you are respon­si­ble for com­plet­ing, you will end up with a list that is much eas­i­er to work with. It will also be eas­i­er to see which longer tasks that are in risk of loos­ing tem­po and what change-ini­tia­tives that are invol­un­tar­i­ly neglected.

What is your method?
Where have you cho­sen to keep your overview of longer tasks? Feel free to leave a com­ment let­ting us know.