July 31, 2015
How many tasks are on your list that have been sitting there for a while, and you feel guilty about not completing them?
We tend to write down more tasks than we can do or ever intend to do, and that leads to guilt, and it also leads to your task list losing power due to its ambiguity. There are strategies you can use when you enter a new task to avoid this.
Use a Question Mark. If you are writing down a task but you’re not really sure you’re committed to it, put a question mark at its end. Example: “Write blog on new Surface Tablet?” The true action here is to ask myself later if this article makes sense; I’m yet not committing to actually writing the article. This is a pretty common situation, where you’re not sure yet whether a task is really needed, but you want to get it recorded so you don’t forget it. If you later decide that the task is not worth doing, there’s no guilt in deleting the task. Read more about how to do this here.
Use a Leading Qualifier. The other strategy you can take is to use a leading qualifier on the task that softens the intention. Here are some examples: In the task “Consider new porch light,” the word Consider is useful if you are still deciding whether to buy something—it doesn’t commit you to the actual purchase. In “Study next steps on vendor contract,” the phrase Study next steps is useful because it doesn’t commit you to completing the contract, just identifying next steps to move it forward, which is your actual intention.
In all these cases, the advantage is when you see the task on your list you don’t feel guilty about not completing the end product—that was never your intention when you wrote it down. Rather, you can see that you only intended to consider it more or study it more. That way your more committed tasks stand out from these and get the added attention they need—the entire list does not get weakened by ambiguous tasks.