How to stop aging... tasks

Alfredo Araujo — №25 with Andrea Feinberg

Everybody has at least one task that is just sitting there, not moving, not an inch closer to completion, lurking in our to-do list and minds. Even people who do not use a to-do list (gasp!) have these tasks!

Why is it there? Well you just read the not-so-urgent, kind-of-relevant, loosely-defined project that is hiding as a task and your brain starts sending warning signals. It analyzes the size, the consequences, the implication, the background and the resources you might need. Fred, the guy who gave you the number, the brunette that has the table…is she brunette or blonde? Wait, I have the table! All of these flash through your mind and end up in “ehhh maybe tomorrow…”.

That is how it creeps into our lists. Sometimes it has been there for so long it is hard to remember what we wanted to accomplish. Probably a meaner version of our past selves created it to torment us now. Maybe it is a karma thing or just some sort of punishment from a past life. Ok, I might have crossed some lines there… but you get the point.

Scratch it out!

As unnerving and complicated as we might want to make it sound, this is just a task that needs a simple tweaking. In fact, take five minutes – literally – and follow these steps to take care of it:

1) Set a timer for 3 minutes.

2) Think about the simplest actions you need to do to get started.

3) Using an outline format, write those actions out. We will call them subtasks. I use my own tool, Elemaint, for this, but any text editor with outlining capabilities or even a piece of paper would do. For the latter, just make sure you leave lots of vertical space between items.

4) Review the subtasks you are writing and add actions underneath them to simplify even further. Technically, this would be sub-subtasks but that is just me being nerdy.

5) Stop when the timer is done.

6) Review your outline and ask yourself again: Is this whole thing still relevant? If not, scrap it.

7) If relevant, select from your list of actions the next step needed to move forward. Highlight it somehow.

8) Do it. Now! If you made a good job of simplifying, it should not take you more than 2 minutes.

9) Scratch the hell out of this task once done and feel good about it.

OK, OK, this did not eliminate the task from your list. In fact, I just added more things to your list. However, trust me on this one. The reason why that task has been there for so long is a weak definition. It was a little project hidden as a task. Now you have little actions that are not daunting and are much more likely to get done.

Happy scratching!

Photo: Flickr/EJMphoto CC BY-2.0

Alfredo araujo

Alfredo Araujo

Alfredo Araujo is an entrepreneur, engineer and father of two boys. He has been a productivity advocate for more than 15 years, teaching and learning about it in 10 countries including Japan, Malaysia and most of the Americas. With his experience in helping people and organizations be more productive, he developed Elemaint: a tool built to help real people tackle their everyday tasks, goals and projects.

Elemaint website