Over the past few years, I have tested many task management tools, read about plenty of methodologies, and experimented with different approaches and routines in the pursuit of productivity. Let’s just say that I didn’t stick to any one of them for a good reason: they didn’t work well. The main reasons for their failure, I believe, are the following:
- Triggers: I tend to forget about my task management tool (where I wrote down what I need to do basically). My tasks need to be top of mind so I would actually do them.
- Distractions: We get interrupted a dozen times a minute in this day and age, especially in a fast paced work environment. That does you no favor to focus on the task at hand to finish it with quality in a timely manner.
- Prioritization: Which tasks are more important?
- Rewards: There’s usually little motivation/incentive for me to get all the things on my list done
The reason why I’m calling this the Rawi model is because, well, it’s my last name. Deal with it.
So, here’s how it goes in a nutshell. I’ll explain the steps in the process, then I’ll dive deeper into each step.
- Write down the tasks
- Estimate the time that each task will take
- Assign the priority for each task
- Record the time you actually spend on each
- Update your list
Sounds simple enough, huh? Here’s what makes this different than everything you’ve been doing.
Step 1: Write
Very intuitive, right? It sounds like nothing new. It’s what you have done in the half dozen task management tools you’ve used this year. What’s different here is that although I’m a tech advocate, I will do the unimaginable and tell you to write things down on a piece of paper.
Yes, you read that right. Pull out a clean A4 piece of paper, and write down your tasks, ideally each in 1 line. As you do that, be mindful of leaving some space on the left (about an inch) and another to the right of each task, as we’ll use that space later.
The reason why I want you to use a piece of paper is so you can keep it physically attached inside your laptop. Yes, inside. Dold the paper and place it between your screen and keyboard, then close your laptop. Next time you open it, you will have your tasks list right in-front of your face, as you shift it on your desk to be facing you to start addressing tasks from it. This solves the Trigger issue.
You can make a weekly or a daily piece of paper where anything you write there has to be done that week/day.
Rule: every task here has to be achievable in less than 2 hours of work. If not, break it down, and write the smaller tasks individually.
Another rule: every task has to have a clear deliverable. “Send an email to X person [20 mins]” might have a clear deliverable (email that is sent), but something like “Hire an Administrator [60 mins]” might not exactly have a clear deliverable after the 60 minute task. Are you looking to post a job opening on X, Y, & Z websites? Are you aiming to write the job description? Are you looking to shortlist 5 candidates and call them for interviews? Each task must have a deliverable/result.
Step 2: Estimate
This step is one of the main keys for this model, and a strong tool to drop procrastination and infuse objectivity into the equation. You wrote “send monthly update to investors” as a task earlier? Take a moment to think how long that will take you to do, then go ahead and write “[20 minutes]” for example right after the task in another color.
This will allow you to visualize how much time your tasks will take, enabling you in turn to stuff them into your day or week accordingly with a bit of realism.
Don’t stress over the actual estimation very much. Sure, it won’t be a hundred percent accurate. But it will give you a fair idea of how much time you’ll spend. Some will take double the time, some will take half, and most will fall right in between. Fun fact: people often underestimate required effort, so try to overestimate instead. This will pay off later.
Step 3: Prioritize
Your list is finally taking shape. This is the other key that makes this model work well. Go through each task on your list right now sequentially, and put a star next to it if you think it’s important or time sensitive. Mark the star in the same color you wrote the time in, ideally red to indicate importance and attract your attention.
Cool. Now what? You probably have multiple tasks with that star. Which one should you start with? In order to know, do the Prioritize step one more time. Go through the tasks again, and add an additional star next to those tasks that are more important/time-sensitive than others.
Now you should have a minimal number of tasks of high importance. If you still don’t, repeat only one more time and pick one of the most important/time sensitive ones. If you’re left with 5 top priority tasks for example and you’re unsure where to start, you could use a CPU scheduling algorithm known as Shortest Time Remaining First (STRF) by choosing the shortest task from the 5 highest priority ones in the list. This way you have your priorities set right.
Step 4: Record
Most of us are not used to track how much time stuff take. Remember the human tendency we spoke about earlier where we estimate less time to get things done? Well, this is us putting it to the test.
When you start each task, start a timer as well. I recommend using a service like toggl.com to keep track of your tasks for different projects. What this does is that it helps you zero-in on the task since the clock is ticking, and you need to be true to yourself and to your schedule.
The goal here is to literally block all distractions for the period of time until you finish that task. Estimated 20 minutes to send an email to a new prospect? Put your headphones on, silence your phone, and get it done. No bullshit. No distractions.
After a few days of doing this, you’d be surprised how much time you spend doing actual work and how much each task takes. It will give you shocking data on where your time goes. (wild thought: experiment with recording every action of your day for a week, including driving and sleeping)
Step 5: Update
That long strikethrough to mark a task done is fulfilling. Do it one at a time, and then shred the piece of paper, or cut it to small pieces by hand for satisfaction.
That by itself is enough of a reward in some cases, but you should also include a reward there. At the bottom of the page, write down what you will reward yourself with if you finish this list. For example: going out with friends on Friday, buying a smoothie, going for a dance class, etc…
And again, honestly speaking, part of your reward is you stopping that timer, and striking through that task with a deep breath, and a clear head.
This works for me, and I hope it works for you too. Try it as it is, and if you feel it can be improved, then feel free to tweak it to optimize your productivity; that’s the objective. (and share!)