Many of us have a seemingly endless backlog of tasks we could be doing. How can you figure out what’s most important, and use that decision to bring focus to your day?
In my post about keeping a work journal, I made a brief side point about knowing your 3 most important tasks for the day. This post will expand on that comment and explain in more detail how I use this technique.
Whether you have a personal task manager/to-do list, or you work from a team backlog, it’s very likely you have many, many things listed as possible items to work on. If you’re not explicit about your goals, it’s very easy to bounce between tasks with no clear direction in mind. Not only is this less effective, it can be quite exhausting.
I do planning at three different levels:
- Each quarter I identify the high-level projects I would like to accomplish
- Each week I pick one or two of those key projects to focus on
- Each day I identify 1 - 3 tasks that will move one of my key projects closer to completion.
This doesn’t mean I have every minute of the day planned a quarter in advance. Far from it. These are the high-level goals I’m working toward. There’s a lot of time left for other unplanned or necessary tasks that need to get done each week as well. But having a goal in mind makes it easy to stay focused and avoid spending too much time on the unplanned or mundane.
At the end of my work day, I’ll start an empty page in my work journal for the next day. At the top, I will list 3 high-value tasks I want to complete. These aren’t huge tasks like “finish XYZ feature”. Instead I try to make each key task something I can reasonably complete in an hour or less.
The next day when I come in, I finish one of these key tasks before I even open my email, news reader, social media, or anything else that could distract me. I hit the ground running and build momentum as early as possible. I’m not perfect with this approach, but it has greatly reduced the number of days where I open my email, get pulled into some unplanned non-emergency, and by the time I get to my “real work” it’s time for lunch.
Give it a try! If 3 tasks seems too much, start with just 1 task for the day. I think you’ll find it beneficial.
Note: Much of what I’ve learned on this topic is from Peter Akkies and his Big Picture Productivity course. I worked through the entire course over a couple months, and I’m still an active member in the community. If this post resonates with you, I highly recommend looking into the course to see if it’s for you.