We all know the importance of a well-organized to-do list.
Every advice-filled article about work organization and planning mentions it at least once. It is, in fact, the first thing that pops up when it comes to fighting procrastination.
However, despite the positives, to-do lists hold a somewhat secret people rarely talk about. And this secret can make it a lot less effective than we all think it is.
The trap most of us fall into
A to-do list (usually) doesn’t indicate how important each task actually is. So, when you write off, let’s say, some 80% of your tasks, you feel pretty good about yourself, right? You feel productive and successful in doing your job.
This can, however, be deceiving. Unless you can tackle all the tasks on your list, even if 80% of your work appears to be done – it still might not be enough. This paradox almost always creates an enormous false sense of productivity. And that is the road to sabotaging your success.
Since prehistoric times, it is in our nature to save as much energy as possible. Since simpler and easier tasks require less energy than the complex ones, with getting those first – our odds of survival increase. We can’t fight it, but we can outsmart our instinct. We’ll talk about that further in the text.
Bottom line is that our brain feels a lot more resistant towards working on challenging tasks, even though those are the more valuable and important ones.
So, when you’re done with 23 of 30 tasks from your to-do list, you feel as if you accomplished something very important and you go home happy and fulfilled. But, just around the corner, the consequence of our inaction awaits (to crush your newly acquired enthusiasm). Its name is productive procrastination.
Productive procrastination is the act of being all busy while still procrastinating on your most important tasks.
When you look at the bigger picture, it’s clear that just because you’re working on something, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re contributing to anything productive in the long-run.
Yes, you have been working the entire day or a week, and yes, you have managed to tackle of 70 or 80% of tasks from your to-do list, but what you’ve done (by following your instinct – just to be sure you understand how this is bigger than you) is kept yourself busy with a long to-do list, while distracting yourself from doing the work that is truly important.
So, is there a solution?
According to Brian Tracy, a Canadian-American motivational public speaker, and self-development author, the secret is in something called ‘ The ABCDE Method’.
How does the ABCDE Method work?
As some would say, the ABCDE Method is like a to-do list on steroids!
This method is, in fact, based on a regular to-do list, only more organized and even more constructive. The ABCDE Method identifies those task that leads to success while, at the same time, determines those items that are nothing but distractions.
The concept behind the ABCDE Method is that we assignee different letters to tasks depending on their priority.
Here is a little tutorial on how to classify and mark your tasks, using the letters A, B, C, D, or E:
Think hard, analyze, and then choose 1-3 tasks that have the highest priority. Try to pick those that will really bring you closer to the achievement of your goals.
Think of them like this:
Are those the task that has the biggest potential downside if you don’t accomplish them, and the biggest potential upside if you do accomplish them?
If the final result of this analysis is more than 3 A-tasks, you need to keep on until you come to the magic number of 3. Not more, not less.
Next thing is to prioritize those 3 as well: A1, A2, and A3.
And then, discipline yourself to see nothing else and work on nothing else but those 3.
Now, gather all tasks you SHOULD do, and if you don’t – consequences will be everything but mild. Consider those as the tadpoles of your work life. Tasks B span from returning a not-so-important call to reviewing your inbox.
Labeled as B tasks, these are valuable in a sense “it wouldn’t hurt doing it”. Hope we don’t have to accentuate how B tasks should be done only when all A’s are completed.
Your next move is to be rational and define all the tasks that if not done – HAVE NO (serious) consequences. Of course, no task should be left out, each and everyone is a brick on your road to closing the project or action.
Only, these ones are not strictly and directly related to your work life. You can assign a C to the items that don’t really contribute to the achievement of your goals. It can be a lunch break with a colleague or completing some personal business during work hours. Once again, don’t even start thinking of C-Tasks unless you have all the A’s and B’s done!
A D-Task is the one you can delegate to someone else. And we don’t mean it in a way to avoid it, but delegating in order to concentrate on the A-Task! So, delegate a certain part of the work to someone who can do it faster, better, or cheaper and invest time gained this way to finish all the A’s!
E stands for Eliminating. Stop doing the thing that doesn’t matter and start using your time wisely. Carefully analyze and eliminate those tasks that are just standing in your way of completing the A’s and B’s.
The point of the ABCDE Method is that your energy becomes more focused and clearer. The idea behind it is to make you feel much more competent in your abilities, and all through discipline and hard work. This begins with deciding to start and finish an A1 Task.
Use your willpower to educate yourself to prioritize, and the success will no more peer on the horizon – but, you two will run into each other arms. Just like in the love movies.
If you feel like this is something that could help you in everyday work, we’ve also written about how this method can be implemented within Teodesk. This might give you a better idea on how you can organize your own everyday tasks.