It’s Okay Not To Complete Your Tasks.

The tyranny of the task manager is real. We add tasks to our task manager, add a date for when we think they need to be done, and then wait for the task manager to tell us what to do.

Our task managers do what we tell them to do. They collect all the tasks we’ve added dates for today and shows those tasks in our daily list. Often we get twenty, thirty, or even forty-plus tasks showing up, and then the problems begin.

For some reason, we feel we must complete those tasks today, and if we don’t, we beat ourselves up and feel disheartened and unhappy. We think we are not productive or good at time management.

But step back a bit. We created this monster by adding all those dates. If you were to go through your daily list, looking at what you have, you’d likely find seventy-five per cent of them do not need to be done today. We caused the issue.

Task management is not a numbers game, yet so many people treat it as such. Doing one task that moves a project or goal significantly forward is a productive day. It’s also a focused day. Focusing on one task all day and getting a lot done is just as productive (if not more) as checking off twenty tasks.

It’s not the number of tasks you complete that’s important; it’s what you complete that matters.

Randomly adding dates to tasks you collect because you fear forgetting about them is where most of these problems come from. And you fear forgetting about a task because you are not doing a weekly planning session. If you consistently did a weekly planning session, you would not forget a task. When you did the planning session, you would pick up those tasks, and you can then add meaningful dates to them. That’s how you learn to trust your system.

And this goes deeper. If you are not clear on your long-term goals and have no idea what your core work is and what is important in your life (such as your family and relationships, health and fitness, finances, etc.), then unimportant tasks and other people’s plans will fill the vacuum. You will invite chaos, overwhelm and stress into your life. That sense of a lack of control over what you are doing will overwhelm you and ultimately lead to burnout.

We then label ourselves; “I’m a procrastinator”, “I’m terrible at time management”, “I’m disorganised”, etc. And once you attach a label to yourself, you begin to believe it, and then you become it. And of course, if we can’t find a convenient label for ourselves, we will find someone to blame — our boss demands we respond to our email the moment it arrives, we’re constantly interrupted by our colleagues/customers etc. It’s all been blamed before.

So, stop. What is important to you? How would you like to be living your life? What kind of person do you want to be?

When it comes to the activities you perform each day, you have complete freedom. So, what do you want to do with your time? When you know this, you can begin to make your task manager more effective.

When you add a task to your task manager’s inbox before you add a random date to it, first ask yourself if you really want to do it. We often add tasks in the morning, thinking they will be a good idea to do, then later in the day, the task no longer seems necessary. If that happens, you can delete it.

For tasks you feel you must do, ask: when will you do it? Typically, a task may need doing but does not need doing this week, so drop it into a folder called next week and forget about it. It’s there. It isn’t going to disappear.

The only tasks that need to concern you this week are the tasks you know you have to do this week. This approach radically reduces your daily tasks.

Now, the only tasks that require a date are the tasks you want to complete this week. And you date these based on where you will be, how many commitments you have and the time available. A glance at your calendar will tell you when the best time to do those tasks.

When you do the weekly planning session, you can go through your next week folder and decide what tasks still need to be done and which can be deleted or pushed off until the following week. The tasks that need doing can be moved into a “This Week” folder and given a date for when they must be done — again based on your commitments for the week ahead. You don’t need old-fashioned project folders you never look at cluttering up your task manager.

Once you begin the week, if you find you cannot complete all the tasks for that day, you can reschedule them for another day that week. The goal is not necessarily to complete your tasks for the day; the goal is to complete the tasks you have assigned yourself for the week. If you can get to the end of the week having completed most of your tasks for that week, that’s a great week.

On average, I will complete twelve tasks a day — including routine tasks — this gives me a figure I can use when I plan the week and the day. If I have more than twelve tasks on my list, I generally go through the list to see what I can push off to another day.

And if you do have a project that needs a lot of work and attention, then block a day off for working on that project. One task: “Work on Project A”, and all you do is work on that project. Turn off email, messages and any other forms of distraction and do the work. Inform everyone that matters that you will not be available on a specific day because you are working on an important project is all you need to do.

Seriously, nobody will miss you if you are unavailable for a day working on an important project. Similarly, when you are away on a course or travelling for a meeting in another country, people understand there are days when you are not available. (You also get a lot more respect for your time from your peers when you do this)

To avoid the tyranny of your task manager, you need to take control of it. Be strict about what gets into your system, avoid adding random dates, and commit to a weekly planning session each week. When you bring these three things together, you will never forget anything, you will be much more productive and focused on what is important, and you will be a lot less stressed.

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Carl Pullein

Carl Pullein

I help people learn to manage their lives and time better so they can experience joy and build a life they are truly proud of.