Sometimes, sh*t happens. We fall behind. We miss our weekly review for a few too many weeks. And things start going into the red. It’s all very depressing and often it looks like there’s no way out.
But there is. What you need is the Asian Efficiency task management rescue process.
Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide for how to dig yourself out of task management hell and back into semblance of normalcy and productivity. This works for any task management application or system, though some of the examples below will be from OmniFocus because that’s what I use.
Let’s do it.
1. Schedule a day
It seems obvious but you need to block out a day to do this. Go to your calendar application of choice, and create an event that covers whatever time you’re going to be dedicating towards this. About 10-12 hours is right – get up early, and plan to sleep late. Something like this:
I personally prefer doing this on Mondays or Fridays – Fridays because then the weekend is relatively stress-free. Mondays because I know I’ve had fun on the weekend and it’s time to kick-off the week.
Part of the deal for blocking out this time is that you’re going to make yourself unavailable. This means no phone. No new email (you have may have to reply to some old ones). And you should tell everyone that you will be utterly unavailable for the duration of this time.
2. Make a mental commitment
This is the real challenge. Clearing piled up tasks and backlog is never fun.
But you need to tell yourself that you aren’t going to do ANYTHING ELSE until this Task Rescue has been done. This means no new episodes of Mad Men. No catching up with the news. No checking Facebook. No working on things you really enjoy.
Once you’ve done that, you need to tell yourself again – mentally and emotionally commit to getting all these tasks cleared and reset before moving onto anything else.
Note: Obviously if there’s a real emergency (fire, life-threatening medical condition), you’ll need to handle that first.
3. Prepare your space
One of the best ways to get yourself doing something you don’t want to do is to prepare in small steps in advance.
So decide first what you want to clear.
Task are the obvious choice – hopefully, you’ll have them stored in digital format in something like OmniFocus, Things or Wunderlist. If you’ve been using post-it or sticky notes, you’ll want to clear them too. And lastly, if you have any physical items, you should process them too.
Now sometimes it’s worth adding email to this list – but only if you think you can get it all done within the allotted time. There is nothing worse than getting through 12 hours of slugging it out with your tasks and emails, only to realize that you have to wake up and do it again tomorrow.
Be sure to get out what you need – in advance. This can be a notebook or legal pad. Your computer. Any assorted papers that you wanted to go through. And of course, some good working music.
If you have your tasks stored in your phone or tablet, sync them to your computer. Similarly if you’ve collected tasks in places other than your task management inbox (tsk tsk), make sure they go in there first.
4. Perform the rescue
Now that everything’s in place, it’s time to perform the rescue.
Get up on time on the day you’ve set side for it – and just start.
The rule for today is this: if you can complete a task within 20 minutes, you are going to complete it now rather than schedule it for later. Note that this breaks the usual “do it in 2 minutes or less” rule that we usually advocate. Also note that Touch It Once still applies here.
Start with the physical items and post-its first. This will visually clean up your space faster, and the sense of progress helps with motivation. Clearing this can be either:
- Putting them into your task management app.
- Scanning them.
- Actioning them if possible.
When you’re ready, open up your task manager application.
Start with the inbox first – clear what you can with the 20-minute rule, and schedule or file the rest with appropriate start and due dates and flag statuses.
Then, go through each and every project or action list you have one-by-one. Here is what you want to do:
Assess if each and every task or project is still valid. Do you still need to do it at some point? Can you put it on hold, move it to a Someday list or can you just delete it?
See if you can action it within 20 minutes and have it done. If so, do it now. Otherwise, set an appropriate start date and due date if necessary.
If a task is missing a start date, add it in – or trash it.
If a task is missing a due date, that’s fine. Also, make sure that the assigned due dates are actually valid – and you’re not just moving them out again and again and again.
Work your way through everything until it’s done. Do whatever you need to do to make sure each task is looked at – put them on a future list, delete or cancel tasks, and email and chase up people as necessary.
5. Reflect on your accomplishment
Congratulations. You’ve successfully revived your task management setup, and all it took was a focussed day of sitting down and handling it.
Of course, it would be ideal if we didn’t get ourselves into the same situation in the future – and the best way to do that, is to do your weekly reviews.
Where to go next
If you’re an OmniFocus user, we show you step-by-step how to stop your task management setup from imploding and how to keep things running smoothly in OmniFocus Premium Posts.
If you want more tips on general task management strategies and principles, check out the Asian Efficiency Primer.
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