Last week I mentioned that when I’m less than motivated or when I’m overwhelmed, I use a technique for planning that I call 5 Tasks at a Time. This week I wanted to share a few specifics about how I use it.
First of all, I started using this technique years ago when I found myself unmotivated and/or overwhelmed. I found that I couldn’t plan a to-do list the night before or even the morning of because I just couldn’t figure out what needed to be done or plans changed so fast that my list couldn’t keep up. So I started writing down only 5 things at a time – 5 things I knew I could do right now. Once I started marking things off, I discovered my productivity skyrocketed. So now I default to this technique whenever I need a motivation boost. Here’s how it works:
- Keep the list short and sweet. Don’t fill the list with 5 things that will take all day. That’s NOT motivating! Write down tasks you can complete quickly. Sometimes my list of 5 takes half an hour and sometimes it takes 2 hours. It depends on the tasks I’ve included and how many interruptions I have. But I love it when the list takes half an hour to 45 minutes.
- Choose a list of 5 things you can do right now. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you make a list the night before, by morning everything’s changed? Making a list of 5 things you can do right now eliminates that problem (most of the time!).
- Have a master list to pull tasks from. You don’t have to have a master list, but it makes things easier. When you’re ready to make your list, sometimes you know exactly what needs to go on it. But other times you aren’t sure. Looking at a master list makes it easier to decide.
- Break larger tasks into smaller chunks. This allows you to mark more things off in a shorter amount of time. But more importantly, if you get interrupted while you’re working on a larger task, it makes it easier to get back to it after the interruption. For example, sometimes I write “Clean the bathroom” but other times I write:
- Clean the tub
- Clean the sink
- Clean the toilet
- Mop the floor
- Dump the trash
If I happen to get interrupted in the middle of cleaning the bathroom, when I’m ready to go back, I look at the list and see exactly where I was and what still needs to be done. Yes, I would probably remember but having the list allows me not to have to remember in case I have more important things to think about.
When I’m blogging, I rarely write:
Instead I write:
- Write Friday’s Post
- Check Facebook
- Comment on three blogs
- Email new subscribers
- Edit one old post
- You can do the items in any order as long as you do those five before starting the new list of five.
- Sometimes I start a new list of five before the old list is completed. When I’m working on the list, sometimes I think of something I need to do. Only if it’s an emergency will I leave my current list of 5 to do it. Instead I leave a blank line after the current list of 5 and start a new list of five with that item at the top. When I finish my 5, I’ll add to that list and then start on it. I never have a third list of five going.
- Don’t skip items unless you have a really, really, really good reason. It’s extremely rare that I skip an item. The only reason I might skip is because circumstances changed and I can’t do it or I ran out of time and didn’t get to it. In that case, I leave it unmarked.
- Keep track of your time. Sometimes I like to write down when I start and finish a list of five.
- Yes, you can write a task down after you do it. I do this sometimes because my lists are a written record of what I did. So if I did something, I want it on the list for future reference.
- At the end of the day, if you want to, add up how many tasks you completed and keep score. It’s fun to see how much I got done on any given day. It’s also interesting to analyze the days when I didn’t get much done and figure out why. Usually I’ve had a lot of other things I did that kept me from completing “tasks”.
- Make the list anywhere you want. It can be in your planner; on a blank sheet of paper; on your computer. It doesn’t matter. And any planner will work. You don’t need a specific format. I think the ideal format is one that provides a spot to write down anything that MUST be done that day and then another space for writing lists of five.
- Simply draw a line through the tasks as you complete them. If you skip an item (which I don’t recommend), leave it unmarked. And by the way, if you skip an item, you probably aren’t doing this method correctly.
- Don’t write an item on the list if you don’t intend to do it. This isn’t wishful thinking. This is a list of stuff you’re going to do!
- If you need to delay an item, do everything else on your list and come back to it when you can. I was planning to go to the grocery store this morning but ended up delaying it until later so I could have lunch with my daughter-in-law and grandson. But I had to delay it again because my grandson ended up staying at my house. I was going to take him with me but he needed a nap (he was falling asleep on the couch). So I put him to bed and postponed grocery shopping for another day.
- Nothing is too small to put on the list. Seriously. Even a task that takes more time to write down than to do can be put on the list. I don’t do this very often because it obviously doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I will do it for a task I won’t do otherwise.
- Don’t write every teeny, tiny thing you do. Some of the stuff I do is so automatic that I don’t need to write it down. However, that list is going to be different for each person. I write down “make dinner” whereas someone else may not need that. I don’t write down “make bed” but someone else might. So write down what you need to and don’t worry about what anybody else is or isn’t writing.
- Write your list of five directly on the schedule section of your planner in the time slot where you’re currently working.
Seriously – this technique is like magic! It’s simple, easy and motivating. My productivity skyrockets when I use this method. And the icing on the cake is that it works with any time management system (like GTD or Franklin Covey or Bullet Journal) and it works in any kind of planner.
So if you’re lacking motivation or feeling overwhelmed, give the 5 Tasks at a Time method a try.
Do you think this is something that could work for you? Or do you have another strategy for days like this?