Have a System (2/3)

This is the second in a set of 3 posts on how we can take small steps consistently. Previously, I wrote about setting goals. Today, I want to look at having a task management system.

Why we should have a system:

For most of my life, I’ve operated without any sort of system—no planners, to-do lists, or calendars. Instead, I tried to juggle everything in my memory. I was able to get by, but my memory-only strategy came with significant drawbacks:

  • Anxiety from Disorganization – I often had an uncomfortable, nagging feeling I was forgetting something important. The more I felt uncomfortable and anxious, the more I was tempted to procrastinate or overwork, because I couldn’t accurately gauge how much work I had left to do.
  • Urgent over the Important – Without a system, I’d choose what was pressing, convenient, or just what I could remember, instead of doing what was difficult or out of sight. As a result, many of my non-urgent tasks, both big and small, would slip through the cracks.
  • No Consistent Processes – Whenever I did have a big assignment, I didn’t draw on experiences or lessons from similar work in the past. Instead, I found myself reinventing strategies and systems for every new project. This wasted time and energy that could’ve been directed towards actually getting started.

What should our system do?

In general, I think these a task-management system should do at least the following three things:

  1. Show an organized picture of what needs to be done – The system should capture all the different tasks you want to accomplish—big, small, urgent, non-urgent—and organize them in a way where it is easy to see what needs to be done.
  2. Break down complex tasks into manageable ones – I should able to use my task-management system to break down bigger, intimidating projects into smaller, actionable next steps that don’t feel as overwhelming.
  3. Help prioritize what to do each day – Once I see the big picture and have my tasks broken down into small next steps, I should be able to use my system to better plan and prioritize my day.

Your system should automate your daily organization process, so you can spend your time and energy focusing on the tasks that matter. Since you’ll be using it everyday, this system should strike a balance of being thorough without being tedious. Design a system that is simple and enjoyable enough that it’s not burdensome to use consistently.

I hope to talk more about the particulars of my “system” in the future. For now, consider this a placeholder post to be expanded on in the future. Next time, I’ll talk about getting in the lab (the first of many basketball analogies.)


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