How many to-do lists do you have? I bet you’ve got many more than one! And this is a good thing! If you read my post about jotting down everything, then you know that I’m all for writing down your ideas, tasks, and other things. But at the end of the day, all of those things should be visible in one common to-do list.
Back when I first started working on my productivity system, my primary goal was to be in control of my tasks. I wanted to know which tasks were most important and what I should be working on at any given moment. And I wanted those two things to be connected. Most of all, I desired to work on tasks that would move me closer to achieving what was important for me. Over the past five years, I’ve built a system that helps me realize that vision. Let me show you how I connect the dots!
Sometimes I’m asked how my interest in productivity started. The short answer is that it started with me becoming breathless after climbing up two floors of stairs. It happened December 28th, 2010. On that day, I decided that I had to get back in shape. That same evening, I went out for my first run. This single event changed my life. It resulted in me becoming almost 30kg slimmer, running 5 marathons (so far), and becoming passionate about productivity. If you want to know the longer version of the story, then read on!
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do?” This one simple question asked by Gary Keller in his book, The ONE Thing, forced me to re-think what my top priority is and what I should spend at least half of my time on. This question can be applied to my relationships, my personal development, my job, and also to this blog. This question is very simple, yet very powerful.
All of my tasks are on my to-do list, and I have a bullet-proof system for processing them. I do task after task. Everything works smoothly, or at least it seems that way. But unfortunately, from time to time I’m overwhelmed with the amount of tasks on my list. Sometimes I don’t know what to do next. Some tasks take too long to process. It seems like I have done everything to prepare myself to be productive, and still something is missing. Is there anything that can be done? The answer is yes – there are many things. But one thing is particularly easy to implement: define the end result for each task. Yes, it’s that simple. Why? How? Find out below.
Take a look at your to-do list. Read the first couple of tasks. How do you know when each of them will be done? What does it mean for a certain task to be completed? If you can’t think of an answer to these questions, you should write down the definition of the end result for each task. Why should you do this? This simple activity serves two purposes:
- You know what is a “good enough” result for each task. This can be your measurement stick when you think you are done with the task. You won’t overdo it (Do you believe in “good enough” results? I do!). You will also know when your task hasn’t been completed and how much more effort you have to put into finalizing it.
- You rethink the purpose of each task and you have an opportunity to either delete or redefine it. Deleting a task is always the first option to consider when you start to work on it.
How do you define the end result?
You may be wondering when I define the end result for my tasks. I do this while processing and moving them from my inbox (main list with the tasks I added during the day) to my projects list. I ask the below questions for each task that I process:
- What did I intend when I added this task to my to-do list?
- Do I still need to do this? Maybe I don’t need to do it anymore.
- What will I achieve by doing this?
- What will happen if I don’t do it? Maybe the consequences of not doing this task are easier to handle than the cost of finishing it. Think about the time you have to spend on this task and what you could be doing with that time instead. Remember, answering yes to one thing always means answering no to others!
- How will I benefit by doing it? How do the benefits compare to my investment of time?
You should ask all of these questions before you start doing a task. If you answer them, probably you will know what the end result should be. Maybe it will be even easier to start this task.
I want to give you a few examples of the end results for some of my tasks:
- Task: “Write an article about the quality initiative in your company.” The end result would be something like this: “Write a 20-page-long article . Include research and describe how developers from Making Waves work with the quality in projects.”
- Task: “Read the book The One Thing.” The end result would be: “Read the book. While reading the book, take notes on the most important ideas so that they are ready to publish on the blog .”
- Task : “Write down your expenses every day.” The end result for this task would be: “Process all your expenses from the previous day. Each expense is recorded in the application called MoneyManagerEx with the correct category and receiver .”
I have to admit that I haven’t fully implemented this yet. I’m in the process of forming this habit. But I’ve already noticed how much easier it is to work with the tasks that have a definition for the end result. It motivates me a lot to try to define it for all of my tasks. I hope that you can see the value in doing this, too.
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Can you try to define the end result for the top five tasks on your to-do list? I’m sure this activity will prove useful to you. If it does, can you share your thoughts with me? Please do so, also if you are skeptical of the idea. I’d love to hear all of your opinions!
Let’s say you want to lose weight. Your goal is to weigh 5kg less in 3 months. You can measure your progress in two ways: either monitor your weight every day, or verify that you’re following your chosen plan to lose weight. These plan could be counting calories, exercising, or anything else you find effective. The first measurement is called a lag measurement, while the second one is a lead measurement. What is the difference between them and why should you use both of them? Keep reading to find out.
- Lag measurement allows you to see how close you are to reaching your goal. In our example, it would be your weight. If you want to lose weight, you can weigh yourself every day/week and immediately see how far you are from your goal.
- Lead measurement is all about making sure you are following your plan. When you define a goal, you should also prepare a plan for how to achieve it. (Check out post about SMART goals) The plan is a strategy for achieving your goal. The information you get from this type of measurement tells you if you are doing what you need to do in order to reach your goal.
I will give you an example to describe the difference even further. Let’s say your goal is to write a twenty-page article. You want to finish it in three weeks. You plan to do research for one week and then write the article for two weeks. You told yourself that you will write two pages a day.
- Your lag measurement would just be checking to see if the article is ready or not, and how many more pages you have to write.
- Your lead measurement would be checking every day to see if you are acting according to your plan. After one week, you can verify whether or not your research is done. If it is, you can continue with your plan. If not, you know you have to adjust your plan and write more pages a day in order to be ready by the deadline. The same thing goes with monitoring whether or not you are writing two pages a day. If in five days you’ve only written 3 pages, you immediately know that you have to write more than two pages each day in the following days.
If you only have lag measurements, you only know that you haven’t reached your goal yet. When you check if you are following your plan you know what the chances of reaching your goal are. You can adjust your plan if something goes in the wrong direction.
These are two simple examples to visualize lead and lag measurements. I use these methods in my most important projects. I cannot overstate the importance of knowing how I’m doing and what I have to do to reach my goals by a certain deadline.
Do you use both types of measurements? Do you think it’s worth doing so?