When we formulate what we have to do that we will not do immediately, a good way to appropriately limit the to-do-task to a size that makes it attractive rather than something we postpone, is to include a verb in every task. ‘Call’ is a verb, ‘write’ another, ‘email’ is one and ‘register’ yet another.
Little Pandora’s boxes
I have previously discussed the impracticality of choosing tricky verbs such as ‘fix’, ‘get’ or ‘make sure’ since these particular verbs can in fact hide entire projects rather than be something we do in a single go (such as ‘Get a new client in the Eastern region’). If the task is too big, we might take a look at it, think to ourselves, “Right, we need to get a new client” and then just move on in the to-do-list and choose a task that can be done immediately – because we want to tick something off our list.
An action only you need to do
I recently worked with a client who made me aware of a seemingly small, but still treacherous, verb-trap. Most of us work with tasks and roles that involve others in some way: either we meet, check in with, sit down with, or discuss something with others. And even if ‘meet’ indeed is a verb, the question is if we are wise to formulate a task using it, such as ‘Meet [someone] and discuss [something]’.
We want to keep our tasks as action-oriented as possible so that it becomes easy to decide when to do what, but if we are to be successful in meeting someone, the person in question needs to appear at the same place as we are in at the same time. It is hence more likely that we encounter one another if we have made an appointment (day and time). Wouldn’t you then agree that ‘make an appointment with’ is the more appropriate way to phrase the task in this case, or perhaps even ‘suggest a time for a meeting’.
These details might appear insignificant and trifle, but believe me when I say that it is often the smallest things that make life difficult, something I see proof of often when working with my clients.
If you want to avoid falling into this ambiguous trap, skim through your to-do-list right now and check for two things:
- That you have included a verb in every to-do-task
- If you have chosen a verb which you might want to exchange for something else for any of your tasks – one that is only dependent on you doing something in order to tick the task off your list (‘suggest a time’ instead of ‘meet’), or one that more clearly defines or describes what you will do (‘call and tell her’ rather than ‘involve’ or ‘anchor with’).
Get moving faster
If you choose your verbs more carefully and thereby make your to-do-tasks more distinct, you will (if you are anything like myself and many of my clients) be tempted to get going with the thing you wanted done when writing the task down in the first place. Instead of having a list full of musts and ambiguous things or events that will or might happen sometime soon, you will have made the step from writing a task down to getting it done a whole lot smaller. You will spend an extra second or two thinking of what verb that would best describe what you need to do, but in exchange you will waste considerably less time when you are up to speed and want to move on with getting the next task done.
About the author
David Stiernholm is a trainer who teaches thousands of people every year in companies, government authorities, organizations and universities how to become more structured and attain a higher degree of personal efficiency.
He is also the author of Super Structured.
“Information overload”, “too much going on”, “full email inbox”, “too much on your plate”, “heavy workload”, “ASAP”, “piles that keep growing”, it has to get better soon… Yes, there are many ways to describe the chaotic life many of us lead at work. But, if we create a better structure at work, we will have more time for what matters most to us and to our business. Super Structured is based on a highly successful training program and is for anyone who wants to create a workday that runs smoother and with greater ease. In short chapters with useful advice and tips.