We can have any number of types of task lists, be they a perspective, a context, or a project. Some lists stick around: the daily list, phone calls to make, things to file, agenda items, and more. They fill up, we clear them, and they fill up again.

Two questions we can ask when approaching any list are:

  • Do I intend to complete this list?
  • If so, how often?

These questions are useful because completable lists affect us differently. When we can arrange a list to be completed regularly, we effectively create a reliable channel of work. Whatever we throw in there, so long as it isn’t large enough to clog the system, has a good chance of being done.  As soon as one task starts to stick around though, other tasks tend to stall, too, and soon we’re wading through cobwebs.

We can consider a Principle of Completable Lists:

Lists that are sensed as readily completable within an easily envisioned time frame are more enticing, readily done, and resistant to procrastination.

These lists tend to be short, easily envisioned, with tasks that are either made of habit or are themselves easily envisioned. For example, I use the Dashboard as a completable daily list. I hope to finish it by the end of the work day, though it is not always possible. When it is not, I consider what about it needs adjusting, be it that the tasks are not clear enough, or perhaps that I have taken on too much and need to delay or drop some things.

If we wish to make a list completable, then we need to pay extra attention to its tasks. Consider for each task:

  • Is it appropriate for this list?
  • Is it clear and specific enough? I.e. Is it broken down to the point of confidence?
  • Would it be useful to convert it to to repeating task? I.e. Is it better broken down in time, perhaps performed over several sessions of work?
  • Is there something that needs to happen before this task?
  • Is a next action actually scheduling a time for the task itself?
  • Is it well written?
  • Is it too large for this list? (E.g. would it benefit being converted to a Land & Sea project.)
  • Is it an actual action?

Notice that these questions are just as appropriate for use during review sessions. And of course for the entire list:

  • Are there too many tasks?
  • Can I imagine actually doing all of these tasks in the time frame I intend?

Originally posted at UsingOmniFocus.com.