Every planning system known to mankind teaches you to prioritize your tasks. While the goal is a worthy one, they usually go about it the wrong way and that’s not only misleading, but it sucks to be you when you find this out. But there is hope.
Let me explain.
There are many ways to ranks tasks in terms of which one you should complete first. It makes sense, right? Of course, it does. But there’s a problem.
The problem is that most time-management and planning systems rank tasks in two ways:
And most systems use them both. But does that make them useless?
No, just not as useful as they could be. Ranking tasks by importance is a wee bit better than urgency, but most planning systems ask you only to rank them by urgency.
So we’ll focus on that.
The tyranny of the urgent
Let’s look at why classifying your tasks according to their urgency level is a mistake.
Let’s say that you absolutely have to complete the following three tasks this month. I know that you’re a lot like me and if you only had three things to do this month, you’d be on vacation. But let’s go with it anyway.
Here are your three tasks:
- Wash the car
- Plant your garden
- Buy an anniversary card
Most planning systems would instruct you to rank these tasks according to how urgent they are. If it’s really urgent, do it first…if it’s not so urgent, it can wait. You get it.
But here’s the problem with urgency:
Urgency is arbitrary.
How? Well, what’s urgent for your boss might not be that urgent for you. (Is anything ever that urgent? 🙄 ) Likewise, what’s urgent for you might not be that urgent for someone else.
The problem with urgency
Urgency works in a perfect world. In the perfect world, everything goes according to the plan and everybody meets their deadlines.
But here’s where urgency breaks down…
It actually leads to over-scheduling and that’s not only frustrating but the opposite of mindful planning.
Ranking your tasks according to their urgency creates what’s known as task stacking. If you get a bit backed up, your tasks previously scheduled become stacked, kind of like a traffic jam. This creates even more urgency and more frustration.
Let’s go back to your list of three tasks.
If you need to wash the car before your date on Friday, but it rains on Friday afternoon, is that task still urgent? No! But there it is on your task list for the day.
Let me ask you another question: Will you reschedule this menial task? If not, then it really wasn’t an urgent task.
While a task may seem urgent, under developing circumstances it may turn out not to be.
Urgency is just one of the ways that most planning systems get it wrong. The other way is by assigning an arbitrary date to a single task too early.
Early granularity feeds task karma
In Buddhism, the concept of karma means that an effect follows a cause. If you do this then that logically follows. The concept of karma extends to task scheduling as odd as that sounds.
When it comes to scheduling tasks, many planning systems urge you to attach a date to a task as early as possible. That’s getting to a very granular level very early in the life of the task.
The problem with getting too granular and assigning an arbitrary date to tasks at the beginning of the month when you’re planning the traditional way is that you don’t have any context for what to month actually holds in terms of cause and effect.
Task karma is when one task affects the next and the next and so on.
There is an evolution that takes place within any time period such as a day, week, or a month. Any given task can be altered by another task thereby altering the original.
For instance, if your task to attend a meeting regarding the final schedule for Project X gets pushed to the next day by the Project Manager, suddenly your previously scheduled task to distribute said schedule is affected.
Priorities, when ranked according to completion date or by the level of urgency, can begin to stack up, creep forward, and task karma starts affecting all others scheduled in a similar manner.
In the next post, I’ll explain what the alternative is to ranking tasks in the ways we’ve seen above.