How often do you actually finish a to-do list you created?
If you are like most people the answer is: rarely.
The problem is that most people write really crappy to-do lists. And when it comes to getting things done, a crappy list is often worse than having no list at all.
A great to-do list, on the other hand, will make it easier for you to get work done.
Master the art of writing good tasks
There are a few key things to get right if you want to write a great to-do list.
In this post I will go over one of those key things: how to write good tasks.
Tasks are the meat of every to-do list. And how you write a task has a big influence on how easy (or hard) it will be for you to complete the task once you encounter it on your to-do list. So writing great tasks is a vital skill for you to master on your road to becoming a to-do list slayer.
What makes a task great?
The goal is to create a tasty task. A tasty task is one that you immediately want to do when you look at it. This happens when it’s super clear what the task entails and you feel confident that you can actually complete the task
Email Mark to ask what his favorite cake is
On the other hand, a badly written task puts you off doing it immediately because it triggers feelings of uncertainty and/or overwhelm. And it is only natural to want to avoid things that make us feel bad.
So, here are three basic rules to stick to in order to create tasty tasks:
1) Start with a Verb
Every task should start with a verb. This makes it very easy for the brain to understand what “to do” and shift into action mode.
The more specific the verb, the better. Ideally you should immediately get some kind of mental image of you doing the task as soon as you look at the verb.
Sticking to this rule will also help you to keep most of your tasks single action steps and to not create tasks that really should be projects when they include a series of smaller steps.
Here is a list of some great verbs to use in your tasks:
- Fill out
2) Keep them Short
A task should take you at most one hour to complete. The bigger a task is, the more intimidating it will look when it’s time to get it done. You really want a task to be bite-sized.
Especially difficult tasks or ones you are dreading benefit from being very short. You are much more likely to start on a task that will only take you 10min rather than 1 hour to complete.
3) Make them Specific and Clear
no question marks allowed
A good task is so crystal clear that you immediately know where to start when looking at it. So make sure each task is specific and includes enough context that it’s still clear what to do even when you look at the task a few days after having created it.
When you look at a task there should be absolutely no confusion about what to do. No one likes the feeling of uncertainty. So avoid creating vague or unclear tasks, or else you will want to avoid them as soon as you see them.
Read Chapter 4 of History Book
Make a sketch of new header menu
Do Math Problems 4.3 and 4.4
Another part of being “clear” is that you should always know when a task is considered “completed”. For tasks like sending an email or filling out an application, the end of the task is pretty obvious. But beware tasks that have no clear end.
You can always create an end to a task by adding a time limit (this is called time boxing a task). Check out the examples of good tasks below to see a few time boxed tasks.
Write on book for 40min
Do research online for new article for 20min
Stretch for 10min
Clean apartment for 15min
Check out these examples of examples of good and bad tasks. Try to imagine encountering these tasks in your to-do list. What feelings would they trigger? Can you tell the difference?
Examples of Tasty Tasks
Brainstorm what goes on landing page for 40m
Schedule meeting with Jim for Friday
Read Chapter 4 of Intro to Psychology
Do Math Problems 2.1 and 2.2
Edit article “How to plan your day”
Examples of Bad Tasks
Also published on Medium.