June 30, 2011
If you use a task system a lot, like most MYN users do, one of the things I bet you hate are tasks that never get done—tasks that just sit on your list. If too many sit like that you tend to lose faith in your system—faith that it is working for you.
Well, much of the MYN system is designed to avoid that, and it does so well. But here is a new idea about another way to prevent the negative impact of those lingering tasks: put a question mark at the end of many of your task entries.
Why do that? Well, if you put a question mark after a task in your list, it changes the whole meaning of the task entry. It converts it from the implied statement “You should do this task” to a much softer question to yourself “Do I want to do this task?”
One reason we hate incomplete tasks is that they make us feel guilty, like we aren’t meeting our commitments. But many of the tasks we write down were never intended to be full commitments; rather, they were merely ideas or aspirations we wrote down for later consideration. By putting a question mark on those tasks, you turn them into questions that you merely need to easily answer later. When you review it later, if the answer is no, you mark the task complete. You feel no guilt since you only committed to answering the question, not actually doing the task. It makes it easier to mark the task complete.
For example, I wrote a task a few days ago “Study recent Producteev announcement?” (Producteev is a new tasks app). It was a timely announcement, so I did not want to move it to the Over-the-Horizon section (low priority)—I merely wanted to consider doing it, and soon. So I left it high in my list and put a question mark after it. A few days later, when I saw that task again, I decided “No, I don’t really want to study this” and so I marked it complete; I had completed my task to decide on it, and moved on. No guilt.
I have written extensively about how many of us, when we write down our tasks, over-commit to those tasks and so never delete them, and so we allow our tasks list to get too big (see pages 77 & 78 of my book Master Your Workday Now for one such discussion). Well, putting question marks on tasks, as I described above, helps prevent that behavior—so I encourage you to give it a try.
Also see my earlier blog about squishy tasks; that’s another solution to similar kinds of stuck tasks.