The next actionable step

to-do-listHaving been away from the office for a week (not on holiday), it’s fair to say that my to do list was a mess. So yesterday I set aside some time to sort it out.

Looking at it afresh, I realised that I had allowed some of my standards to slip.

Many years ago, I heard Dan Ariely talking about procrastination. Part of his advice was to ensure that every task on your to do list should have a clear ‘next actionable step’. This wasn’t true of my list today. So there’s some remedial work to do.

BUT before even thinking about that, I spent the time today to scan each item assess its importance and or relative urgency to ensure that I have an actionable plan for the rest of this week. After that, I’ll re-vamp my list.

So, what are the standards that I aspire to?

1 – Each task must start with a verb. I type the VERB in capitals. This is a technique to quickly draw my attention to the nature of the work.

2 – An adequate, but succinct description must follow. This should be readable at a glance, and meaningful enough that I don’t need to invest time, energy and thinking power to work out what to do.

VERB + description = next actionable step.

3 – Each task has a due date assigned. On Fridays, I review the tasks that are due on each day of the following week, and assess if the workload is reasonable. If there’s too much work for the space available in any day, I re-assign some of the tasks. This is informed by the next standard.

4 – Tasks that have a firm deadline are marked with ! This doesn’t indicate the relative importance of the task. It simply shows that someone else is expecting it to be completed.

5 – Where appropriate, I include references to relevant material in the notes field. Again, this saves thinking time when I’m about to start a task.

Just five simple steps. Not too complicated, not too demanding.

Do you see any room for improvement?

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