It doesn’t take long to accumulate more work than can be accomplished in a single day. Once that happens you are forced to prioritize the tasks that you work on. Deadlines are usually the biggest factor in driving those priorities, and without intervention, eventually your schedule becomes based around a series of deadlines for all your projects.
For some this can be sufficient and it was how I worked for a while. If you have a project manager handling aligning the deadlines for you it is possible to have a very efficient pipeline this way. Living a deadline based schedule comes with trade offs though. Anything that doesn’t have a deadline becomes the lowest priority and never gets attention.
For small tasks you can fake it, set an arbitrary date a week or two out and have it eventually land in the queue. However, when you have an idea that could take months or years and isn’t driven by a deadline it’s easy to let that idea get sidelined and forgotten. The initiatives I often was most passionate about always seemed to fall in that category and I needed a way to stop them from being passed over.
To solve this I decided everyday when compiling my task list I would choose a task that aligns with one of my long term initiatives. I would add it to my task list with all my other tasks. I always plan to get to it but I found that in reality as the day progressed and airdrop tasks landed on me it would get left behind only to be re-added the next day in an endless cycle of well meaning intention.
Time to innovate, and for me, the answer was squirrels.
Well, not just any squirrel, I loved the ShipIt emoji squirrel and decided to make him my mascot for improvement.
The first step was to define what a squirrel was. A squirrel is something that if you could only get one thing done today this would be that thing. A squirrel is so special that if possible it should be the first thing you spend time on that day. Most importantly only ONE thing can be your squirrel for the day. Following those criteria I would add the squirrel emoji to a task.
This changed how I viewed my tasks. I still needed to meet deadlines, but now each day I would choose one task that would be my precious squirrel child for the day.
It sounds silly but this exercise helped me build better task habits in a few concrete ways:
- On days where there isn’t a system critical issue that I needed to designate as my squirrel I choose a task that aligned with a long term initiative I wanted to push forward.
- Choosing only one task forced me to make decision on what was most important instead of treating everything as high priority
- It was much easier to track “did I take care of my squirrel” than trying to track and compare the many different and irregularly sized tasks I did in a day.
- When focusing the majority of my time on a single project for a while, I would assign my squirrel to a different project or initiative to keep from burning out.
- Doing this daily, first thing in the morning, starts a habit loop and the feeling of accomplishment from checking it off (and the joy of emoji) provides the reward.
Try it out right now:
- Choose a favorite emoji
- Add that emoji to a task
- GO DO THAT TASK
- You are awesome! You just did something that had value to you.
The phrase “Do the most important thing first each day” is just a simple way of saying, “Give yourself a time and space to work on what is important to you each day.” - James Clear
What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? - Gary Keller