Tips for Taming your Tasks

Your work is to discover your work
and then, with all your heart,
to give yourself to it.  - Buddha

Team Sisarina recently wrapped up reading and discussing our first book group selection, "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. At about the halfway point, I weighed in on my observations and take-aways. Now that I've finished the book and have had some time to digest and even implement some of this sage advice, here's a second installment of tips and tricks that work for me.

Do what you can given the situation, time and energy constraints. This has a fancy name: The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment. The four criteria are: 

1. Context: Allen writes "At any point in time, the first thing to consider is, what could you possibly do, where you are, with the tools you have?" While waiting for a more than slightly tardy friend to join me for coffee recently, I decided to balance my checkbook. Instead of feeling annoyed at being kept waiting, I felt productive and on top of my finances.

2. Time available: If I only have a few minutes before a meeting, I might read an article I filed away for future reference. Any tasks with a discrete beginning, middle and end that can be dispatched in a short period works well in this situation. Being overly ambitious with too little time only leads to feeling frazzled and pulled in too many directions. Instead, choose the right task for the right time period. Simple advice that actually works! 

3. Energy available: This one was a real revelation for me. Adjusting my work to my energy level never occured to me. My thinking ran something more like, "Drink more caffeine and gut it out." Now, if I find I'm low on energy or my brain is on overload, I often escape to Quickbooks to catch up on general maintenance. Yes, I am the only person in the office for whom this is a soothing escape. It's lonely being the numbers person at HQ! 

4. Priority: This topic ties into another principal, at least in my mind, which Allen dubs "The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work": Doing predefined work, Doing work as it shows up, Defining your work. This means, in other words, how do you decide what to do, and when, in the larger context of moving you toward the goals and longterm outcomes you desire. (See my earlier post re: "Squirrel".)

Here he suggests evaluating priorities from different perspectives ranging from the runway of current actions to the 50,000 foot view of life. Getting swept up in the immediate or unexpected tasks is actually often a decision to choose the path of least resistance. As the author keenly observes, "It is often easier to get wrapped up in the urgent demands of the moment than to deal with your in-basket, em-mail and the rest of your open loops." Guilty as charged! When evaluated in context, however, those same task become consciously chosen building blocks to actually getting you closer to your goals and the ever elusive work/life balance.

So grab your label-makers, a copy of "Getting Things Done" and share your thoughts and strategies on taming tasks with us!