Every task has a lifecycle along which it moves. It begins the moment a task comes your way and dies at completion or abandonment. When you understand this cycle and make the most of it, productivity soars and task completion becomes inevitable. This article/tip teaches you the task lifecycle so you can begin reaping benefits right away.
Traditional Planning Trap 1: Focus Only on Completion
Traditional planning talks mostly about completing things. For most of us, the reward only comes—and stress only lets up—when the job is done. The problem with that kind of thinking is that you don't finish projects all that often. Even when you complete something small, it's usually part of something bigger that's unfinished. If you only feel accomplishment when everything is "all done," you could wait an awfully long time for that reward. This creates compelling pressure to push projects to completion whether they are the most important things or not.
Traditional Planning Trap 2: "Only Touch it Once"
A similar problem is the idea of "only touch each piece of paper (or task) once." This philosophy says "don't let go of it until you finish it." That way, you feel accomplishment frequently, and you won't have left-over tasks floating around your head.
Bad idea! This leads you to avoid large, unpleasant tasks in favor of short, easy work, so in time, some papers on your desk will give you a panic attack just looking at them. In the end, it doesn't motivate you to work harder or give you a rewarding sense of accomplishment. It just encourages stress and procrastination. In reality, you need to touch each task more than once, but only for the right reasons, at the right time, and in the right way.
You need a perspective that allows you to accomplish anything, big or small, lots of steps or just one, in a way that rewards you at every step. Understanding the lifecycle of a task can give you that perspective.
The Right Way: The Conveyor Belt of Destiny
There are four steps in the lifecycle of a task. Each step moves the task a little further along the lifecycle "conveyor belt" towards its final destiny. When you see this clearly, your perspective changes and productivity soars.
This perspective is fun! Each step completed is a real accomplishment— cause to celebrate! Noticing these completed steps gives you a constant sense of accomplishment, and it moves even the largest projects inexorably towards completion.
Here's how the task lifecycle works:
- Step 1: Collect everything as it crosses your path.
- Step 2: Process everything, deciding next steps, separating tasks and resources.
- Step 3: Review today's tasks before you try to do them.
- Step 4: Do "next steps" until a project is complete.
"Collecting" is fast and easy. It eliminates stress by gathering all of your tasks to a few, regularly-maintained collecting points (examples: your desk "Inbox" tray, an unsorted task list, or a portable notebook). As each new task appears, just stuff it in the collecting point without analyzing it. This takes less than five seconds. Don't worry about whether you will do it or not. This ensures you won't lose it and eliminates the stress of juggling things in your head. You will decide what to do with it later.
When your whole conveyor belt system is in place, you will feel huge relief every time you collect a task. Why? You'll know that it's going to move forward steadily until it's taken care of in the right way, at the right time.
"Processing" is the phase where you decide what you want to do with items you have collected. It takes less than two minutes per item. You can choose to do nothing with a task; you might file it, if it doesn't require action; you might delegate it, if someone else can do it. You also choose when the task needs to be done and schedule it so you can forget about it until then. Processing makes collecting possible because you know that collected items will be evaluated, scheduled or dismissed. They won't just accumulate.
If you understand the task lifecycle, you'll feel relief and accomplishment each time you process a task because you'll know it is now poised and ready for action when the time comes—and you can forget about it until then.
"Reviewing" is really "previewing." It is how you balance your daily workload and takes less than five minutes each morning. You briefly look at the tasks you have scheduled for the day and make sure that you have sufficient time to complete them. You also do weekly and monthly reviews which are just short, routine maintenance of your task lists. These reviews are less than 10 minutes each.
Every time you do a review, you'll see that your lists become more realistic and doable, and you'll feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment in a very short time.
"Doing" is the terminal phase in a task's life, and it is the whole point of personal organization. It takes more time than any other phase, so you will spend most of your time in this mode. However, instead of doing projects to the bitter end, you will only be doing next steps, bite-sized chunks of the project. This minimizes resistance to completing tasks and projects. Plus, every time you complete a next step you will accomplish something real and tangible, so you will see and feel your progress towards your goal.
Putting it All Together
For this to help, you need a complete, functioning system. Unless all four lifecycle steps are in place, stuff will accumulate without reaching its destination like a break in a line of conveyor belts.
Total, Relaxed Organization (TRO) gives you detailed, step-by-step instructions and optional coach backup to set up your personal conveyor belt system. The benefits are measured and proven. You learn by doing your actual work, so you accomplish a lot as you learn. And it's amazingly inexpensive.