Task and to-do lists are never-ending for most people who work, especially those considered to be knowledge workers. Between the constant barrage of emails, instant messages, and other new requests – our task lists only seem to grow. Most people feel like they can never get ahead of the work to be more proactive and wake up each day more stressed out than the last.
One thing is true for most people: email is a constant source of dread. Opening your inbox for the first time on a Monday morning can almost feel overwhelming as you see the mountain of incoming messages that came in over the weekend while you were “trying to disconnect” from technology.
As you “stress-sip” your morning coffee, you look at your inbox, your task list, and your calendar, and you wonder where you went wrong in your life decisions. Maybe the life of a national park tour guide would have been less stressful and more rewarding.
The reality is that most people won’t ever get to the bottom of their to-do list, but that’s okay. What you can do is get back to some semblance of a stress-free day with the proper organization of your task list.
One “trick” you can implement today to make a big impact is the 2-minute rule of productivity. What’s the 2-minute rule of productivity? Well, anything on your to-do list, instant messenger queue, or email inbox that can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it right away.
Anything That Takes 2-Minutes, Do Immediately
Yes, we’re serious about the 2-minute rule of productivity. When an email or instant message comes in with a request that you can do in 2 minutes or less, go ahead and take care of it immediately. The time taken to look at the request, noting it on your task list, and then getting around to it later will take more time than just doing it right away.
You might be wondering how you’ll get any deep work done when you’re constantly working on the barrage of “two-minute” items. Here’s the way you handle it: close your email app and close your IM app for long periods. If you are struggling with getting work done that requires deep focus, your long task list isn’t your problem. The problem is you’re constantly being interrupted by “dings”. Schedule time to go “off the grid” to get some work done, and then get back to your email and messages.
When you’re working through your email inbox and message list, read through everything in your list first. Then archive/delete anything that’s not relevant. Then go back and do all your 2-minute items. Once those are done, take the rest of the items and get them into your to-do/task list.
If you’re skeptical about the idea, try it for a week and see if it improves your happiness at work. Your schedule should look something like this:
Deep focus time (email and chat apps are closed)
Email and chat app processing
Handle the 2 minute or less items immediately
Schedule other items in your task list
Repeat step 1
Defining What Needs to be Done
When you’re processing your task list, having a clear definition of what needs to be done is a key part of productivity. When you’re unsure about what the action item is for the item, you’ll end up procrastinating on the item instead. This procrastination will lead to frustration as you’ll never feel like you’re making progress on your goals and meeting your deadlines.
If an item cannot be done within 2 minutes, you’ll want to add it to your task list. When you’re adding it to your task list, make sure you’re clear on what the expected outcome is before you start on the task. If you’re unsure, go back to the person making the request and get clarification.
Defining What is a Task, and What is a Project
One of the problems that plague most people when they are at work is defining what needs to be done. As you work through your task list, email inbox, and message queue, you should be taking a hard look at what needs to be done based on what’s being requested.
One of the skills you should look at developing is defining tasks vs projects. As we mentioned earlier, a 2-minute ask should be done immediately. These kinds of requests are tasks because they’re singular in nature. It’s a “someone wants you to do something, and you do it” type thing.
What people struggle with is defining when to turn a task into a project. When a task has to be broken down into multiple individual tasks, it becomes a project. Projects require a further scope, deadlines, and resource allocation.
Understanding the breakdown between tasks and projects is critical to having a successful work life. When you have “tasks” that need to be broken down into sub-tasks, you’ll struggle with feeling like you’ve been productive.
As you set up your workday, build in time for deep work, but don’t neglect your team for longer than 3-4 hours unless they’re aware of a special project. When items crop up that you can handle within 2 minutes, go ahead and take care of them immediately. You’ll keep your task list small, and your team will be happy as well.
For more information on getting more done, remote work tips, and other workplace productivity content, check out the Spike blog. Alternatively, tweet us @SpikenowHQ and tell us how your experiment is going. If you’re ready to take your productivity to the next level, check out Spike.
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