Tasks of the Day

So, as I was not very happy with how my projects were advancing I had to research and implement various systems to help me move forward. After much fiddling GTD was the first breakthrough. It helped me to get my current affairs in order and gave me the peace of mind to go to the upper levels. I identified my big goals and sought to align my actions with these goals. I learned to distinguish between task’s urgency and importance. Things started to gradually get better but still not good enough. I was still missing something… and it turned out that my daily routine is weak and allows me to procrastinate 🙂 Basically I didn’t have a daily routine. I used to just open the list with tasks and diligently delay the more difficult looking ones until they fall off the current day and were left off for the next day. Probably these are just my personal flaws but the good news is there are fixes. The concept of Most Important Tasks of the day saved the day.

I was doing my daily task lists for some time when I stumbled upon the term MIT on the Zen Habits blog and I adopted it (I’m not a native English speaker).

Essentially you need to pick a bunch of tasks to do for the day. These are the Most Important Tasks. Of course you may do other things as well but you should throw all of your energy at completing these MITs. Make separate list with these tasks and stick to it.

Start with the most difficult or daunting task. This is important. Direct your efforts at the task you need most energy to accomplish. Keep an eye on the other important and urgent tasks. But you have good chance to do these later if they are easier and not that scary as the MITs. Thanks to my GTD based approach my tasks already have attributes like Energy (mental and physical), Importance, Urgency, Context and Time (ETA) so it’s rather easy for me to sort and choose.

It’s important to start with the tasks that require most energy because with the advancement of the day most people’s energy levels start to drop. If you delay the MITs too much you will not have the energy to start or complete them.

For example I discovered that my ability to concentrate varies greatly throughout the day. Even though I might think that in the evening I’m at the same energy level as in the morning I can easily prove myself wrong. Just have to try to focus on something more difficult while there is some distraction like say TV. I do ignore distractions much more easily in the morning. And it’s nearly impossible for me to do the same in the evening.

Because MITs list is small it allows for better focus. Most people have tens if not hundred of tasks in their lists (or worse – in their heads). If you keep this enormous pile of tasks in front of you it easily makes you feel overwhelmed and hesitant to start working on it.

The process of choosing tasks for the MITs list is essentially a planning process. The usual disclaimer about plans apply: circumstances may force you to abandon your plan but the planning process is important. Planning forces you to do the required thinking. As the saying goes: the failure to plan is a plan for failure. By keeping the more important tasks first you have the chance to complete them even if you’ve underestimated how much time would they take.

And finally the MITs list is a commitment. You bind yourself to the course of action.

For example that’s how I do it:

First I identify the hard landscape for the day. Are there any tasks that must be done at a specific time? Any meetings? At very least there’s your lunch and it’s definitely important.

After putting my hard landscape on the calendar I’m ready to distribute other tasks between the fixed ones. I keep in mind the context, energy levels, urgency and importance. You can’t do a task if you are not in the right context. And it’s a whole lot better to do some hard work that early in the day when you are still fresh. Don’t overcommit! You can always pick some more things to do if you finish earlier but people tend to underestimate the time required to complete a task. And in my case new things pop-up every now and then during the day.

It sounds like common sense but unfortunately it took me some time to figure out and more importantly to establish the habit. I was underestimating how important it is until I forced myself to include it in my daily routine and never miss it. Almost every time I skip it I got sloppy results. Of course the GTD still applies: if you find yourself stuck somewhere or your energy level drops dramatically for some reason – you can always pick another Next Action that matches your current context or energy level.

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