The word “negligence” has an almost universal negative connotation. Negligent store owners are sued, while negligent parents and negligent teachers blame each other for creating negligent children. However, there is a context where negligence can be an extremely positive trait: task management. I’m not talking about negligence of the entire to-do list, but rather purposeful negligence of tasks that don’t serve a higher purpose.
When it comes to our to-do lists, far too many of us become undisciplined yes-men (and yes-women). We complete easy tasks as we attempt to feel productive, instead of actually being productive. In reality, the tasks we do are rarely the ones we should be prioritizing, or doing at all. What’s needed is a filter: a way to distill good tasks from bad ones.
Goals are great for providing targets to strive towards. To make sure your actions are aligned with your aspirations, I recommend you follow the APP system, which aligns your macro goals with your micro tasks.
Usain Bolt’s incredible speed wouldn’t break many records if he wasn’t sprinting directly towards the finish line. In the same vein, our ability to wipe out tons of tasks in a day doesn’t do us much good if those task don’t bring us towards our goal. This is why the first step in the APP system is awareness. To prioritize and accomplish meaningful tasks, you must identify what you are progressing towards.
At the very top of your task list, create 3-5 medium term goals for yourself. I like to create monthly goals regarding the five most important areas of my life: health, professional, education, relationship and service (giving back). You should avoid creating more than five goals at a time, as progress towards goals typically requires a significant amount of time, and time is a finite resource. Limiting goals also makes you choose the ones which will be most impactful.
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
This is Gary Keller’s famous focusing question from his book, The One Thing. It asks people to consider what is the most impactful thing they can do to accomplish their goals. As you concentrate on the focusing question, you’ll find many tasks come to mind. As long as they’re correlated with your goal, add them to your list and then prioritize based on the focusing question.
If tasks are not correlated with your goals, toss them out. This is the most painful part of your process, but also the most important. Certain tasks (purchasing products, attending events) can feel very important, but are they important to you becoming the person you want to be? As long as not doing the task will not terribly affect the well-being of yourself or others (make sure to still pay your bills and pick the kids up from school), toss that task out. You may set a goal one day that does prioritize those tasks, but that day is not today.
When your list is full of goal-oriented tasks, don’t multitask. It’s been proven ineffective over and over again. Keep asking yourself the focusing question when selecting your next task, and stay with that task until it is completed.
Just as it’s important for you to write down tasks in accordance with your goals, it’s equally important to recognize the positive impact your tasks are having on your goals.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for asking himself every evening, “What good have I done today?” Asking that question does two crucial things. First, it makes you take a comprehensive glance at your day and judge your effectiveness in it, allowing you to plan future days more effectively. Secondly, and most importantly, it makes you note the progress you’re making towards your goals.
Being goal-oriented often means looking into the future and acknowledging the distance that separates you from your goal. This can be discouraging at times. By taking a moment to look backwards and reflect on what you’ve accomplished, it raises morale and pride and solidifies your belief in your ability to accomplish your aspirations.
I hope you found this productivity trick useful. I would love to hear about how you’ll be applying the APP system and learn about the effect it’s having on you in the comments below.
Xander Schultz is the CEO of Complete, the social task-completion app. Prior to Complete, Xander worked full time at FortyTwo Inc, where he led the mobile product development of Kifi, a social bookmarking product. www.CompleteApp.com