As we go about our lives, especially during the Holiday season, we oftentimes find ourselves being pulled in many directions by imaginary, yet seemingly very real, strings. These strings tug at our mental capacity. They tug at our heart and soul. They tug at our physical faculties and muscles. They tug and pull and yank and jerk and make us exhausted. We fatigue from the constant busyness of doing things, but we also fatigue from the constant mental barrage of thinking about the things we think we need to do. When we are not doing a task, we are thinking, prioritizing, planning, or re-validating the task.
You see, every task left unaddressed in our life, exists as a mental string between our brain and the nebulous and dynamic list of things we think we need to do. Our goal should always be to invest our time in tasks that truly matter when it comes to achieving personal and professional happiness. To realize this goal, we must strive to free our mind and liberate our stress by simply removing strings and distilling our list of commitments to those legitimate obligations we are duty-bound to meet.
If we do not need to do a task, then we should not invest ANY time in the task.
So, how do we remove strings?
- Do not accept the string when it is first introduced into your life. Make a quick assessment of the task and determine if it is something you need to do. If it is not something you need to do, then dismiss it and do not let it into your life.
- Delegate the string if it is necessary but does not need to be done by you.
- If a string is necessary and it cannot be delegated, then it should be addressed by you as effectively as possible.
The problem we run into sometimes is not managing our tasks effectively – both on the front-end and the back end.
On the front-end, we need to immediately assess into which “One” bucket the task belongs:
- One-Minute Bucket – if a task can truly be done in a minute, then do it immediately. We do A LOT of one-minute tasks every day. We like doing them because they tend to be routine and easier tasks. We also quickly get a sense of accomplishment through completion of these tasks, which makes us feel productive and happy. Too bad all our tasks cannot be one-minute tasks. I try to spend a couple of hours each day on one-minute tasks. To be fair, some of these tasks take five to ten minutes…maybe twenty. These one-minute strings are the not the main culprits of our fatigue.
- One-Hour Bucket – if a task can be done in an hour, then prioritize it against two to three other one-hour tasks to be done during the same day. I recommend knocking out low-hanging, one-minute tasks quickly at the start of each day while letting your brain warm up. Then tackle the longer one-hour tasks. I would only spend half of your day on one-hour tasks. A single one-hour task is not enough to wear someone out; however, three to four every day for a week require enough mental focus for fatigue to creep in by week’s end.
- One-Day Bucket – if a task requires a full day to complete, then prioritize it against one-hour tasks to determine which day you will knock it out. Mondays are terrible days for one-day tasks. One-day tasks are better saved for Thursday and Friday when your week is running a little more streamlined. Depending on how your days shake out, you may work a one-day task across two half-days.
- One-Week Bucket – if a task requires more than a day, then I consider it a project that requires multiple days to plan, prepare, and execute. These tasks along with the one-day tasks are the real culprits of fatigue and stress. It is difficult to tackle more than two to three projects at a time. Throw in four to five one-days tasks and you have a very full plate. Once your next two months are foreseeably accounted for, then you should stop taking on more one-day and one-week tasks until you complete most of them. Otherwise, you will spiral out of control into a time-wasting, unproductive frenzy rather than a time-investing mode of operation.
Back-End Delivery Expectation Management
On the back-end, we need to manage delivery expectations with respect to the following factors:
- Deadline – be honest with the customer of the task from inception to delivery…especially if the customer is you. Once you set a delivery date, commit to it and communicate it to the customer. Once you know the delivery date must change for whatever reason, communicate the new delivery date and why the change is necessary to the customer.
- Quality – determine what level of quality is required for effective completion of the task. Some tasks require higher standards of excellence. Perfectionists may struggle with this point, but not everything needs to be done to A+ level quality.
- Sacrifice – what might you need to sacrifice to accomplish a task. This factor oftentimes helps you decide if a task is necessary or not. If you are not willing to make the sacrifice necessary to complete the task, then perhaps it is genuinely something you should not be investing your time in. Please remember: there is much happiness in doing tasks that require self-sacrifice so be careful in dismissing tasks that require you to serve beyond yourself.
Chopping Block of Bad Actors
I leave all my tasks in my Inbox. If a task is not in my Inbox, then it is not on my radar and there is no string attached to it. The above system works well, but we all know there are some bad actors out there that still seem to get cast from time to time. Some tasks are bad actors. At first, they seem like the real thing, but the more you watch them the worse their acting becomes. So, how do you account for these tasks that seem necessary at first, but are indeed bad actors not worth your time?
Every three or four months I conduct a Chopping Block review. During this exercise, I scan and review all tasks in my Inbox and delete those tasks that are no longer relevant and/or aligned with my personal and professional happiness. Trusting the above system works, then these Chopping Block victims tend to be tasks that continuously get re-prioritized behind other supposedly more important tasks. Based on experience, three to four months has become a sufficient amount of time to flush out bad actors from my task list. Sometimes, there is nothing more gratifying than to delete unaddressed and now unnecessary tasks.
The devil is in the details, but more so in a cluttered mind, burdened soul, and weary body being pulled in many directions and away from our excellent self. If you can discipline yourself to implement and sustain a time and task management system that helps you reject, delegate, and address the strings that get introduced into your life; then you have a better chance of investing your time in things that matter – your health, your family’s happiness, your professional satisfaction, your friends, your passions, and your service to others.