Create Better Task Items

I was paging through a list of things that I made for myself during a call I was in a few weeks ago, and was utterly dismayed by how useless the items were on the list. I wasn't sure what needed to be done, I couldn't remember what things meant, and I was left with the sinking suspicion that I had forgotten something crucial. I write this, in part, as a lesson to my past self on how to write good task list items.

Hopefully you'll find it useful.

Task items must be actionable. You need to be able to read the subject or summary and know: what the project is, what kind of work it is, what needs to be done, and what very next thing you need to do is.

Tasks cannot be open ended. It's really tempting to write tasks in the form of "work on a project" or "make progress on email backlog," but don't. How do you know if you've done the task? Is all progress the same? Is the actual work activity plainly obvious from an open ended task description?

Tasks need to concise. I'm a big fan of including some sort of status information and some sort of instruction and context with your tasks, but you need to be able to look at a task list and triage what to do next without thinking very much and without spending more than a few seconds deciphering messages from your past self. Write good summaries.

Try to organize your projects and tasks so that most of your task items are not dependent upon other items. Sometime dependencies are unavoidable, but I find if you're clever, you can chop things up into parallel tasks that are easier to work on but that accomplish the same goal. In some cases, long strings of dependent tasks can be just as troublesome as large open tasks, because in the moment they amount to clutter.

Also your feedback and suggestions from your own experience may be of interest to all of us! I look forward to hearing from you!

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