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A Simple Task List Hack

Recently I came upon the Autofocus System of task tracking by Mark Forster.  I went to YouTube to see if I could find a video to give a good visual explanation of it, but I ended up watching a video about Forster’s “Final Version” method instead.  And it’s a variation on this that I’m going to suggest as a task hack today.

The system is extremely simple.  Essentially it is a running list of things that you need to do.  Every time you think of something new that needs doing, it gets added to the bottom of your list.  Every time you finish an item on your list it gets crossed off.  Recurring or incomplete tasks are added to the end of the list when you are done with them for now. It couldn’t be more straightforward.

I chose to trial it around the house in place of a set cleaning schedule and a specific de-cluttering task list.

Here’s how I have been implementing it.

I took my pad of paper and a pen, stood in the middle of my bedroom and took stock of everything that needed to be tidied, cleaned or removed.  I wrote down all the obvious things that needed to be done. Things like ‘put passports away’ were listed alongside ‘clean window sills’ and ‘vacuum the floor’. I moved on to my bathroom and by the end of that I had a full page of tasks to tend to.

Really? One page and I had only been through two rooms!  Holy moly!  Lots of work to get on top of.  So I started.

I started by reading through the list I had made and, driven by my need to get some small wins under my belt, I chose smaller tasks that maximised visual impact.  I cleared up ten out of the sixteen tasks in the bedroom and five out of fourteen tasks in the bathroom.

The following day I re-wrote the list for the unfinished items in the bedroom and bathroom, then went on to add items for the living room, dining area and kitchen.  At this point I stopped when the list had reached two pages long!

By day three I was able to get enough tasks completed that I could add another two and a half rooms, plus note what laundry was waiting to be done.

Each day I was able to make small, but noticeable gains in multiple rooms, while maintaining the successes of the previous day. It was super simple to create the list – all of 5 minutes each day, and really encouraging to see the list shrink and the house become tidier and cleaner.

My big goal is to eventually get all of my household tasks on to the two pages or less.  I know that this will fluctuate depending on how much time I have to spend on these tasks, how much mess we make and what season of the year it is.  But I believe it will be possible.

Here are some observations about why I think this hack may actually work, even if it does fluctuate back and forth a bit.

– I organised the list of things to do in to logical sections – rooms.
– I split the jobs in to smaller parts – ‘put away passports’ instead of ‘clear up room’.

Both of these simple changes to the original idea of the “Final Version” long, rolling list, would fit nicely in many organisational guru’s toolkit.  They are forms of chunking; breaking things down in to small steps that the brain can easily deal with.  It reduces decision fatigue or overwhelm as barriers to achievement.
I also noticed that jobs can’t hide if you list them out this way.  “Wipe down the window sills” no longer hides somewhere in “Clean the room”, and voilà it doesn’t get forgotten or overlooked, or avoided.

– I wrote the list out by hand.
– I re-wrote the list each day.

Handwriting out notes is known to improve engagement with what is being written.*   Re-writing also serves this function, as well as ensuring that I see which tasks are being avoided as they reappear daily on the new list.

Like all organisational systems this one is not a cure all.  It still relies on the human trying to use it.  This human will have good days and bad ones, but on the whole I think that the act of creating the list each day connects to my nature as an obliger and a ‘list-ticking’ one at that.  I want to tick off the list and see it shrink.  I get pleasure out of the changing list and the changing environment that comes from it.  It creates a positive snowball effect.

And what gives us pleasure, we repeat.  Because we’re like that.

At this point I wouldn’t use this for organising my important tasks as I know that the list encourages my tendency to go for the ‘easy wins’ first and then work my way up to the bigger, more time-consuming or onerous tasks.  This wouldn’t be appropriate for me in a work environment as I would want the important tasks to take priority rather than the easy, feel-good ones.

If you give this hack a try, I’d love to hear how it works for you.  Thanks for reading.

 


* I know there’s a scientific study or dozen that backs this up.  If I find a reference to it (them) I’ll pop back and annotate this.

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