Dealing with tasks

Now that you’ve broken down your priorities all the way down to tasks, how do you deal with those?

Let’s take one task as an example, for instance, washing your car. This is not the type of task that can be done immediately because it takes a while. Therefore, you should schedule it. Ask yourself the following questions: When does the task need to be done? Perhaps before your parents come to visit next month. When is a good time for you to do the task? Next Saturday morning could be a good time. You can go ahead and put that in your calendar.

Tasks can get scheduled on your calendar or they can be put on a to-do list, possibly with a reminder. The important thing is to actually check your calendar and your to-do lists. Otherwise things go on there but never get done.

Here comes the important part: actually doing a task. At the beginning of the day (or several times a day), you can check in with your calendar and your to-do lists. Let’s say it’s 8:50 on a Tuesday morning. What activity is scheduled for 9:00 on your calendar? Or if you have an hour of two of time for general work, what tasks are on your to-do list for today or for this week?

By going through the tasks you’ve already outlined for yourself beforehand, you make sure that you’re completing tasks you’ve outlined as important earlier. You don’t have to make the decision now about what you need to do. You’ve already made that decision beforehand, and by taking action now, you know you’re making progress towards your goals and that therefore you’re living in accordance with your priorities.

After you’ve completed a task (or a group of tasks), you can review your progress. I usually do this once or twice a day, typically at the end of the day. I look through the tasks I’ve completed today and remark on the progress I’ve made on my projects and thus towards my goals. Even if I’ve worked on very small, specific tasks during the day, I can evaluate exactly how those fit within my overarching goals. This brings perspective, reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing, and reassures me that I am respecting my priorities.

On some days, things don’t go exactly as planned, and at the end of those days I don’t usually feel like doing a daily review. It feels like the day has been a mess, so I just want to leave it behind and get on with my life. In fact, every day includes something that doesn’t quite go according to plan. But that’s all the more reason to do a daily review: What actually happened today? How did it differ from what I had outlined for myself today and why? What forced me to adapt my plans? For instance, if a request comes in from a colleague, I have a choice about whether to tend to it right now, to put it on my to-do list, or to schedule it for a later date. If I choose to do it right away (and the request is not urgent), that may mean that I am overly eager to serve other people instead of sticking to the tasks I have prioritized. Or it may mean that I am anxious about the project I need to work on and prefer to procrastinate by doing other work.

It is extremely useful to examine those differences between the “ideal” day, as planned beforehand, and the actual day that ends up happening. What are the differences and what tension do they stem from? Do you have unrealistic expectations for yourself; do fake emergencies come your way too often; is there a priority or project that pops up but you haven’t accounted for properly; are you overwhelmed or anxious about a project you’d like to tackle; do external circumstances derail you?

If you stop to think about what unwanted factors are influencing you, you will be better able to avoid their influence next time. And in that way it will be easier to actually do the tasks you wanted to do in the first place.

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