Has this ever happened to you? You sit down with your task list on a Friday morning and realise that an item from Monday is still there. Or you look at your priorities for the day, realising that the same ‘high priority’ item has reappeared on screen for several weeks.
How can this be? You’ve done the right thing and created a task in whatever system you use (an app, a spreadsheet, a notebook) and maybe even set a reminder. Or two. You’ve even assigned it a clear priority. Yet here it remains, reminding you that it needs your attention.
Action. Actually *doing* something about the task. Its presence on the list can lead to guilt and/or frustration. Whatever the outcome, it’s not something you enjoy and it’s far from helpful.
If we discount laziness from our list of possible explanations (you’re welcome), that leaves us with a few common reasons that you find yourself staring at a very familiar task list each week.
1. Does it even need to be done?
Let’s start with an easy one. It may be that you’ve added that task to your list so many times now that the passing of time means it’s no longer required, relevant or practical. Yes, it would have ben nice to write up all your notes from that conference, but almost a year has passed and it’s time to attend the next one. Why guilt yourself by looking at a task you’re unlikely to complete. Delete it and move on with your life.
2. Is it a Task or a Project?
One of the reasons you don’t crack on with a given task is that it’s actually too big! Rather than a task you can complete in a single pass (e.g. a phone call or an email), it’s a collection of multiple tasks. Written as a task (e.g. “Write quarterly report) it can feel overwhelming and just too hard to complete. Which it is – it needs to be broken down into multiple smaller tasks
3. Is it ‘uncomfortable’?
When thinking about the task, does it lead to uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, worry or anticipated boredom? Might this discomfort have led you to avoid making a start? Here’s another perspective: might it be that the discomfort associated with the task could be outweighed by having it completed? Be honest with how you feel about the task, then take action *despite* the discomfort.
4. Is it relevant?
It may well be a task that needs doing, but it’s not a good fit for your current priorities. If you’re honest about what really matters, you can ensure you defer it for another time and refocus on the big stuff. If you’d really like it completed sooner, explore how you can delegate it to someone else. If it’s a context-dependent task, simply hold on until you’re in that relevant context and then crack on.
5. Is it clear?
Perhaps you really aren’t sure what you need to do. You may have written a quick note to yourself some time ago, but the task on the list doesn’t really make as much sense as everything else on the list. Pause. Take stock. Maybe it’s more than a single task, maybe you need input from a colleague and maybe you need to reframe the task to make it more ‘do-able’. Maybe it was a request from someone else and you need more information. Bring clarity to your task list and stop re-writing the same incomprehensible list.
6. Do you need a deadline?
Even if you have the resources, skills and clarity about a given task, it might not get your attention until you have a deadline to work towards. In the absence of a naturally occurring deadline, simply select one. To get some added impetus, tell a colleague about it and ask them to hold you accountable.
There can be a whole host of reasons why the same incomplete task keeps appearing in your task list. Instead of automatically pushing it into next week, take a moment to really ask yourself why you’ve not done it yet and what you can change in your situation to make completion more likely.