For most of us, every day is a bombardment of new tasks. I like to use a system of battlefield triage to rapidly sort and prioritize each task. I typically run down the following list very quickly when looking at any task.
1. Do it now
David Allen, the famous Getting Things Done author, say that if a task can be completed in less than two minutes, you should just do it now. It seems to simple, but you really have to force yourself to get in to this habit of just cranking things out immediately if they are imminently doable. It’s just about the one thing that can’t be improved with any system, just get it the little stuff done. The one exception would be if all at once you get six new two minute tasks, then you need to stop and put them all in a list at once.
2. Automate it
If a task has any element of recurrence to it, try to look for someone to automate it. Paying your bills, look for an autopay option. Doing repetitive Excel work, bribe an Excel-junky friend to write you a macro. Looking for a new apartment on Craigslist, set up an IFTTT recipe to send you an email every time there’s a new match for your criteria. Have a repetitive task you think can be automated but don’t know the tool, post it in the comments below and I’ll try to help.
3. Outsource it
When you first look at any outsourcing services you will think that there’s nothing in your life that could possibly be outsourced, every task is either uniquely dependent on your skillset and perspective or too small to justify outsourcing. You will be wrong. I’ve been gradually using a service called Fancy Hands more and more and I love it. Case in point: I just “moved” (why the quotes? see here) to the Bay Area and I need a bike. The bicycles section of craigslist is bloated with hundreds of posts for bike components, plus you can’t differentiate between parts and full bikes, plus I didn’t really know what size bike I needed, so I fired off this email in about 30 seconds to Fancy Hands:
I’m in the market for a bike in San Francisco. Budget is $200. Prefer a single-speed road bike, but in general simpler is better. I’m a 5’6″ guy. Can you check out Craigslist (or anything else you know of) in the San Francisco or East Bay areas for some options of complete bikes in my budget that will approximately fit me.
Within an hour I got back a formatted list of 5 ads on craigslist that fit all of my criteria (including a link to what size bike I need) each one emailed to confirm availability. I ended up savings probably an hour finding exactly the bike I wanted for less than the price of a latté (the research, obviously not the bike). The more I get in to this habit the more awesome uses I find for it. If you try it out, share some of the use cases you find for it.
4. Delegate it
If you are working collaboratively it’s always worth considering whether somebody else can do this more efficiently. Some people would put this at #2, but in general I find I’m pretty efficient at #2 or #3, so I’ll usually take a crack at it before passing it along. Similarly to the outsourcing concept, the more you do this the better you get at it.
5. Put it on the list
In general this whole process takes just a few seconds to consider you options, if you can’t do it now, automate it, outsource it or delegate it, then finally the task makes its way on to your to do list. The better you get at the triage process, the less your to do list looks like a mass of busy work and more like a nice pipeline of meaningful things to tackle.
Obviously the infrastructure to deal with tasks that make it through the triage is a larger topic. I use Asana and watching their product demo/vision video is what prompted me to write this post today.
Also, in case you didn’t see the widget at the top of the screen, I’m crowdfunding (so I can take a little time off from freelancing) a screencast series on using productivity tools like Asana, Evernote, IFTTT and lots of others. The focus will be on the tactics, tips and tricks of actually using these products to do meaningful work every day from anywhere in the world. You can become a backer here. Even if you don’t want to see the final output please Like/Tweet/Share it in case your friends or colleagues are closet productivity nerds. Thanks!
What are some tasks you spend a ton of time doing you wish you could automate or outsource?