Written by Susan Karyn Lasky, M.S., BCC, SCAC
SUMMARY: Accomplishing a task requires action — not just good intentions or checklists. The Task-Appointment is an appointment with yourself to work on a specific task, at a designated date and time.
A Must-Do or To-Do is just a concept— until it is assigned a date and time. Then it becomes a Task-Appointment: An appointment with yourself to work on a specific task.
A task is NOT a project – it is a single step (that may be one element of a larger project). A task is an activity that can usually be accomplished in a single session.
NOTE: The first Task-Appointment of any project should be dedicated to breaking the project down into specific, do-able steps (tasks).
Take a specific task and schedule it (date and time) on your calendar, just as you would schedule a meeting or activity. This turns a passive Must-Do or To-Do into an action step.
Assign both a start and a stop time—this is critical: Knowing you only have to work on a task for a 30 or 40-minute period makes it easier to start on something you’re inclined to avoid. This time-limited scheduling also makes you less likely to hyper-focus (spend most of the day) on one task, to the detriment of everything else.
Is It a Task or a Project?
If you’re not sure where to start, it’s a Project.
The concept behind the Task–Appointment is to break the Project down into baby steps, or chunks, that can be accomplished in one sitting.
The Task-Appointment allows you to focus on one step at a time. When you separate a Project into Tasks (chunks, baby steps, components), it is easier to understand and plan for the different steps needed to complete the Project. Task-Appointments minimize confusion and procrastination by clarifying:
Allow for 5-10 minute breaks between scheduled Task-Appointments and Meetings. Don’t schedule back-to-back appointments. Use these breaks to help keep your energy balanced and your work in focus. Take a Movement Break (walk, stretch, visit the restroom or snack area, etc.) and/or a Relaxation Break (close your eyes and rest, make a personal call, read non-essential material, etc.). Anxiety makes everything more difficult, so make a habit of including stress-relieving activities in your day.
Avoid overscheduling. Be realistic and leave “unassigned” periods for catch-up, naps, etc.
Use a timer (computer, scheduler, watch or desk alarm, phone call or beeper) to keep track of both appointments and breaks. Don’t rely on your “sense of time.”
If the task will take longer than an assigned period, schedule additional “appointments” to complete it. Is your definition of ‘task’ is too broad (which is why it can’t be completed within a limited time period). Is the ‘task’ really a ‘project,’ which should be broken down into “baby steps,” or component tasks?
Try to schedule like tasks at the same time (i.e., 10-10:30 Return phone calls; 5:30-6:15 Do errands at stores on route home). Avoid continually shifting from one type of task to another – transitions consume time and energy. Plan ahead for efficiency, especially with outside chores.
Schedule different types of tasks within the Day. If you’re spending most of the morning on writing-type assignments, spend the afternoon on more social tasks.
Take your time-of-day energy-level into consideration. Schedule tasks that are more complex during higher-energy periods. Open mail, browse catalogs, or return emails during a mid-morning slump, rather than first thing in the morning when you’re fully awake and ready to go. Work on the more difficult assignments first, so you don’t feel pressured while you do other things.
If something else must take priority over a task; just reschedule the task, as you would a meeting or assignment that has been postponed. (Stay aware of any related deadlines, and work backwards to ensure you devote enough time to completing the project on time!)
Stay on track. If something comes up that does not require your immediate attention – don’t allow it to throw you off-track! Consider what needs to be done, and by when. Then consciously schedule this new activity/interruption as you would any timely Task-Appointment. NOTE: It is very easy to allow distractions to take priority, especially when you’d like to avoid your already-assigned tasks, when the new activity is more stimulating (as new often is), or when someone else is applying the pressure.
Reinforce task completion. Check it off as done on your calendar. Schedule “Reward Time” for later that day, evening or on the weekend – especially for completing difficult, boring or stressful tasks. You need “down time” to recharge, and would probably take it anyway, but feel guilty and pressured. Now you don’t have to – Reward Time is your time to indulge in something you enjoy (reading, computer games, a movie, dinner out with friends, a long bubble-bath, etc.) without guilt!
Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish within a given time frame. Before you say “yes” to something, decide if it is really something you want/need to do. Think about whether the way you would be spending your time is how you want to spend your time. Decide if you can eliminate or delegate certain activities/projects that are non-essential and stress-evoking.
Schedule “Self-Care Appointments”
It is important to take care of yourself, but self-care is usually a low priority. Change the pattern.
Schedule Task-Appointments to exercise, go food shopping, prepare healthy meals, take a leisurely bath, etc.
How well you take care of yourself directly impacts your mental and physical health, which in turn determines your productivity level. Don’t forget this!
Wanting to do something is not the same as getting it done. Working on something is not the same as being able to finish it in time. Doing less, but accomplishing the things you do, is more fulfilling than doing more and never feeling you have things under control.
Free yourself from the “I should have/could have/would have” trap. There will always be “more” to do (if not, consider taking on some interesting projects). The benefit of the Task-Appointment approach to time management is that you clarify priorities and set realistic daily productivity goals. When you achieve these goals, you can allow yourself to feel good, despite the backlog of things you haven’t yet accomplished.
Susan Lasky is a both Board Certified and Senior Certified ADHD Coach.
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ADD and ADHD are used interchangeably for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
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