Ya decía el anuncio del Mercedes Clase E: “Los seres humanos amamos la listas. Es el desesperado intento del hombre por poner orden en el caos.”. En LifeHacker hacen repaso sobre el arte de las listas de tareas (To-Do): Geek To Live: The art of the doable to-do list:
When it’s time to add something to your to-do list, think it through using the following guidelines.
Only Put Items on the List That You’re Definitely Doing
Sometimes you think of tasks you’re just not ready to do yet. Maybe learning a new language – while it’s an eventual goal – just doesn’t fit into your life right now. Maybe upgrading the website is low priority because your business is shifting gears in a major way, and any site overhaul will look very different – or maybe won’t be needed – in six months.
Instead of letting tasks you’re not quite committed to loiter on your to-do list until you’re sick of looking at them (and sick of the reminder that you’re not quite there yet), move them off to a separate list, a holding area for Someday/Maybe items. You’d tell your assistant to do something only if you absolutely, positively want it done, so only concrete actions you’re committed to completing should live on your to-do list.
Break It Down
The quickest route to a task you’ll actively avoid working on: Make it a vague monstrosity. Put a nonspecific item such as “Clean out the office” on your to-do list, and I guarantee that’s the last thing you’ll ever start working on. Actually, “Clean out the office” isn’t a to-do at all; it’s a project. Author of Getting Things Done David Allen says projects are not tasks; projects are collections of tasks. That’s an important distinction. Internalize it, because your to-do list is not your project list. Don’t add multi-action tasks to it, such as “Clean out the office.” Break projects down to smaller, easier-to-tackle subtasks, such as “Purge filing cabinet,” “Shred old paperwork,” and “Box up unneeded books for library drive.” Your Assistant self will ask, “What do you want done?” and when Boss you says, “Clean out the office,” that won’t get you anywhere.
The smaller and more atomic these subtasks are, the more doable they are. Inspirational writer SARK breaks down her tasks into five-minute increments, and calls them “micromovements.” She writes, “Micromovements are tiny, tiny little steps you can take toward completions in your life. I’m a recovering procrastinator and I have a short attention span, so I invented micromovements as a method of completing projects in time spans of 5 minutes or less. I always feel like I can handle almost anything for 5 minutes!”
Coming up with those tiny tasks requires thinking up front, when you’re putting the task on your list. The following examples contrast vague to-do’s (the kind that can throw up roadblocks) next to their doable counterparts.As you can see, breaking down your tasks into next actions creates more than one task for items that look like regular to-do’s but turn out to be small projects. For example, replacing the broken glass table top involves measuring the table, calling and ordering a replacement, and possibly going to pick it up, which brings us to the next guideline.
Focus Only on the Next Action
When you have a multi-action task – such as replacing the glass table top – keep only its next sequential action on your to-do list. When the task is complete, refer to your project list (again, separate from to-do’s) and add its next action to your to-do list. At any given moment, your to-do list should contain only the next logical action for all your working projects. That’s it – just one bite-sized step in each undertaking.
Imagine that you’re at your desk, you have a spare 10 minutes before a meeting, and you pull out the preceding roadblock to-do list. Can you find a dentist or learn Italian? No. But you could get an item done from the doable list. You could email a friend about a dentist referral, or check the university website for fall class offerings.
Use Specific, Active Verbs
When you tell yourself to do something, make it an order. An item such as “Acme account checkup” doesn’t tell you what has to be done. Make your to-do’s specific actions, such as “Phone Rob at Acme re: Q2 sales.” Notice I didn’t use the word Contact; I used Phone. Contact could mean phone, email, or IM, but when you take out all the thinking and leave in only action, your verbs will be as specific as possible. Literally imagine instructing a personal assistant on her first day on the job as to what you need done.
Include as Much Information as Possible
When formulating a to-do, the onus is on your Boss self to make it as easy as possible for your Assistant self to get the job done. For example, if you have to make a phone call, include the name or number. Instead of “Donate old furniture,” assign yourself “Call Goodwill to schedule pickup, 555-9878.” When you’re stuck in the doctor’s waiting room for 20 minutes with only your cell phone, you can’t donate your old furniture, but you sure can make a phone call – if you have the number. Be a good Boss. Arm your Assistant self with all the details she needs to get your work done.
Keep Your List Short
Just as no one wants to look at an email inbox with 2,386 messages in it, no one wants to have an endless to-do list. It’s overwhelming and depressing, as though there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, keep your to-do list under 20 items. (This morning, mine’s only 17 tasks long, and I call myself a busy person.) Does that sound like too short a list? Remember, your to-do list isn’t a dumping ground for project details, or “Someday I’d like to” items. These are tasks you’ve committed to completing in the near future, such as the next two weeks. Keep your projects and someday/maybe items elsewhere. Your to-do list should be short, to-the-point commitments that involve no more deciding as to whether you’re actually serious about doing them.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Although your to-do list might have 20 items on it, the reality is that you’re going to get only a couple done per day (assuming that you’re not writing down things like “get up, shower, make coffee, go to work….” – and you shouldn’t be). So make sure the most important tasks are at the very top of your list. How you do this depends on what tool or software you use to track your to-do’s, but do make sure you can see at a glance what you need to get done next.
Keep Your List Moving
Although my to-do list is only 20 items or so, it’s 20 items that change every day. Every day, two to five tasks get checked off, and two to five tasks get added. Remember, your to-do list is a working document, not some showy testament to organization that quietly gathers dust because you’re off doing real work that’s not written down anywhere.
Uno de los principios fundamentales que me hizo reflexionar cuando leí GTD (libro que me pasó Jaizki y que no he acabado) es que un proyecto no es una tarea. Diferencia sutil, pero fundamental. Tus listas de tareas deben ser como tus objetivos: de elementos pequeños, concretos, manejables. No me gustan demasiado las listas, esa sensación de todo-entra-nada-sale o no-puedo-borrar-esa-tarea-porque-sigue-estando-al-95%. Sin embargo, como son inevitables, cada vez me decanto más por mi cuaderno de espiral, en vez de PDAs o aplicaciones en mi escritorio. Mi nueva PDA será un cuaderno Moleskine. Para apuntar cosas que pienso en un instante y tengo que anotar antes de que las olvide.
He vuelto a los orígenes. Me parece más humano…
Créditos de la fotografía: dmachiavello en Flickr (bajo licencia Creative Commons)