This is Part 3 in the Time Management lessons / Productivity Hacks series.

Part 1 discussed the importance that Lists play in Time Management and how to get started with the Master List.

In Part 2, we discussed how to analyze the list by asking the question ‘What kinds of tasks are on the Master list’? This helped us break the Master list down into multiple categories.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you review the two-Time management lessons referenced above, before reading this one. While it’s okay to simply speed-read through this series because you’re short on time (ahem), I urge you to come back to it to actually do the exercises outlined in these posts. Dare, I say, ‘Penny wise, pound foolish’?

Find out Why?

The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why

Mark Twain

Twain was right. Though, I’d say the second part is such a profound question, one that many of us would struggle to answer in our lifetimes.

What we can attempt to answer, though, is why on earth do we spend our days doing stuff we currently do or think we should be doing? Finding out why we do things is one of the most important Time Management lessons we can learn.

1: Objective

In Part 2, we already attempted to cull out unnecessary tasks from the lists, leaving us with a tuned list in front of us now.

In this exercise, our job is to fine-tune to only keep the absolute essential tasks on this list. But first, here’s a story.

Aesop’s Fables – Lioness and Vixen

Two mothers, a Lioness and a Vixen, compare their children. The Vixen has a brood but the Lioness has just one cub. The Vixen, apparently annoyed by the haughtiness of the Lioness, points to her brood and tells the lioness how she has so many beautiful offspring compared to the one cub the lioness has. The lioness replies that even though she has one, her cub is a Lion.

Quality NOT quantity. By doing less, you’ll actually achieve more.

So, how do we begin to focus on meaningful activities? By asking ‘Why’ each task belongs on your list?

2: The Process

We start with the tasks in these 6 categories: R (Rapid Wins), E (Enjoyable), S (Sub-Projects), T (Transition), I (Inspirational), P (Persistent). Then, we determine which category tasks deserve further scrutiny.

By definition, ‘R’ tasks shouldn’t take you that long to do, so let’s not worry about optimizing those. Similarly, the purpose of ‘T’ tasks is to get them off your list altogether, so they’ll be gone soon too.

This leaves us with tasks in the 4 categories – P I E S.

Let’s try to eat the Pie one bite at a time!

3: Persistent tasks

I referred to these as ‘Whac-a-mole’ tasks. They keep showing up no matter how hard you hit them. Your job today is simply to question their very existence. This is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.

Yes, shake them up, by diligently and methodically asking yourself this one question: ‘Why do I need to do this task’? The answers can range from outright extinction to someone getting upset.

If you can’t find an answer, flip the question around and ask ‘What would happen if I never did this task, ever again’? You’ll make progress.

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.

Peter Drucker

For iffy (unsure tasks) I’m going to suggest a novel approach. Create a ‘Waiting room’ (a blank page in your notebook) and move this iffy task from your list to the ‘Waiting Room’. And, forget about its existence for 30 days.

Cal Newport, in his book ‘Digital Minimalism’, suggests a similar 30-day digital detox to reclaim your productivity, especially if you feel digital distractions consume you.

If you feel a dire need (within the 30 days) you can bring the task back to your list. However, if your life is pretty much the same a month later, then feel free to say bye-bye to that task FOREVER.

You just learned one of the best Time management lessons. You reclaimed minutes or hours of your day by not doing something you never needed to do in the first place.

If you love always do something, let it go. If it comes back to you it’s yours, if not, it never was.

At this stage, every task on your ‘P’ list, should be what you deem ‘absolutely essential’.

Time Management lessons: Know why a task appears on your list will help you focus on the right tasks
Photo by Hope House Press – Leather Diary Studio on Unsplash

3: Inspirational tasks

These are truly your ‘someday’ tasks. Today is the day. At least for one of these tasks.

But first, ask why you want to do these? Be authentic. In my post on Grit, I talked about how I enrolled for a Computer Science class because someone on a Podcast suggested it was a good idea. I wasted valuable time every day thinking about NOT doing it.

Eliminate ones that are simply too far-fetched even for you. I know there’s a case to be made to step outside your comfort zone. But if you’re on Earth, trying to reach for something in another galaxy, it just won’t happen. Stick to our solar system.

From what’s left, pick the one thing that has been crying to you the most.  Maybe it’s learning to play a piece of music on the Piano. Move other items from your ‘I’ list into the Waiting Room. You can bring them back when you’re done with the Piano.

List 5 things you need to do to get started for your project. For instance, if you want to perfect a piece on the Piano, your list may look like this:

  • Dustup and tune your piano (assuming you already have one, if not, start by looking for one)
  • Find the notation/music for the piece
  • Find Youtube videos or some other teaching source
  • Hear the piece being played
  • Start playing the first few notes

Add these 5 tasks to your list and re-categorize them like we did in Part 2. You know the drill.

4: Enjoyable Tasks

This is your can-do-all-day category of activities. Since we are trying to learn Time Management lessons and not Time Wasting lessons, I have an ask of you. Can you pick the top two on your entertainment list and move the rest to the waiting room? It’s that simple.

Some of you may remember the days when we got to watch just one episode a week of our favorite TV series?

Our goal is to try to stop being a ‘one Netflix season a day’ person.

5: Sub-Project related tasks

Like with all other categories, first, ask yourself ‘Why’ for every sub-project? If you have a project that does not fulfill a genuine need or desire, time to get rid of it from your list and never think of it again.

These project tasks can be daunting. But there’s a reason they are on your radar. They, usually are projects you’d do well to take on now while they’re manageable (before they snowball into an emergency).

I can give you an example right now. Our house has incandescent ceiling light fixtures from over a decade ago that are slowly starting to burn out, one at a time. I need to replace the entire lighting system in the house with energy-efficient LEDs. The longer I delay this project, the more temporary lights I need to install. Both from a time and cost perspective, that will be more expensive.

Why am I not working on this already? Good question! Probably, because I’ve been busy working on tasks without a clear Why. However, with the light-bulb moments I’ve had as a result of this post (haha), I can now make room in my to-do list for this project.

The process for dealing with this group is exactly the same as with the Inspirational tasks. Pick one with the highest priority and break it down into the first 5 manageable detail tasks. Then, categorize and add to the list.

Done?! Phew!

There’s no place like the Finish line!

For today, that is.

You are now the proud owner of a spanking new to-do list with some old tasks, some new ones, and hopefully no borrowed or blue ones!

We’ve answered the Why of tasks today? Next post, we’ll look at the ‘When’?

Get a FREE detailed step by step guide to build a practical to-do list to achieve all your life goals

You'll also get weekly actionable tips based on science for a healthy, productive and happy life!
  • This post has got all the hooks and lines, I am sinking into a listing universe of efficiency. Succinct, precise, you make art of lists look like a cake walk that I should join, I can imagine all that time at the finish line. I also see that punning is now elevated to an art. A pleasure to see it work so well. 🙂
    Such a fun read and best of all it does look doable. Digital minimalism is on my reading list, now if I can only conjure that elusive time 🙂

    • Ah,Divi. It has taken me many years to realize that the true essence of what we’d like to do is hidden behind layers of inefficient tasks. So, pruning away is the only way to get to the core. Grateful to you for joining this party :)! And I just couldn’t resist the puns!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    How to build your To-do list

    Build a great, practical to-do list using this step by step blueprint

    Get this Free PDF

    You'll also get weekly actionable tips based on science for a healthy, productive and happy life!