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Being Deliberate with Task Wording

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How we word our tasks can make a significant difference in how we approach them. For example, several rules of thumb may be:

  • Start with a verb
  • Maintain both simplicity and clarity when possible
  • Act as though you are delegating the task to someone else. (In fact, you are delegating to your future self.)

In the last post, Grouping Tasks by Session, I showed my Dashboard Perspective:

Dashboard Perspective - 2016-03-15

 

On Twitter, Brandon Pittman asked me what’s the difference between “Read book” and “Read: book”. I said, “not much,” but in hindsight, I realized that there is some rhyme/reason to the nomenclature. The syntax can also be useful to highlight my intentions in several ways.

A Structure of Task Words

The structure is a single verb followed by a colon, for example “Process: X”. I originally picked up this task-writing style from Tim Stringer at Learn OmniFocus. He tends to use it for working with perspectives.

There are several words I now tend to use to start tasks, each with their own cautions. I do not use this convention all the time. They do tend to show up more in the Dashboard perspective, or areas I visit with regularity. The following is a list of how I sometimes write my tasks and my intentions behind them:

  • “Develop:” or “Continue:” are useful words to continue a project where I do not know how long it will last. Most any creative work can fit in this mold. The task often is repeating with a link to materials of the work, a context, or a perspective dedicated for that project.

Example: “Develop: Music piece”

The task repeats. Every session that I feel I have done enough ends by marking the task complete.  The task then appears again at the repeat frequency. When the work itself is complete, I delete the task.

  • “Consider:” is useful for considering if I want to do something. I have a dedicated context for considered tasks, but I can also have considered tasks sprinkled elsewhere.

Example: “Consider: Continue arranging photos” (unflagged, repeating, in @File & Flow : Home context.)

Once the work is considered, whether actually done or not, it can be marked as complete. See also the post on the considered task for an in-depth look at its use and cautions.

  • “Process:” Indicates a series of tasks that are generally memorized and should be completed in one session if possible.

Example: “Process: (some track of music)” means to do all the editing, mixing, and transfer to a Dropbox folder marked for review.

Example: “Process: Communications” means to review the Waiting for list, clear my phone, emails, and text messages, and make all needed calls, emails, and text messages.

Caution: This term is most useful for fully practiced work, where you know the methods and materials involved. If it needs to be left incomplete before ending its session, consider writing an additional task to mark where you left off.

  • “Review:” is useful to look over a list. I can do none, some, or all of it.

Example:“Review: Office Filing” – flagged and repeats on weekdays. I have in mind the intention of clearing the list every few days or so, but I do not have to do all of it when I see it. I make that decision during each work day. If I feel I have done enough filing tasks for the day, I mark the “Review:” task complete. I anticipate seeing it again on the next workday.

Caution: One needs to acknowledge the intention of the list. If a list never completes, is too large to review in a single setting, or is completed too slowly, is this acceptable? If not, adjust the list so that trust for its use is maintained.

  • “Clear:” is similar to “Review”, “Clear” tends to refer to a list. However, instead of doing none, some, or all of it, my intention is to do all of it.

Example: “Clear: Home Filing” which is flagged and repeats on Fridays. I aim to complete the task by the end of the weekend.

Caution: Lists that we intend to complete in a span of time tend to take the greatest skill and finesse. For example, a daily list (like the Dashboard) is intended to be completed within the day. All of the skills of drafting tasks, setting repeats, acknowledging what can and cannot be done, etc. come into play.

  • “Practice:” is specific to the practice perspective. These are pieces of music that I am either composing or learning. I set them at some Defer Another interval, practice it on the day it shows up, and mark it complete. Periodically, I’ll change the repeat interval depending on how well I feel I know the piece.

Example: “Practice: Toccata in D Minor” unflagged, defer another set to q3 days, @Piano.

  • “Arrange:” means that I plan to re-arrange where the task sits in a project.  This is useful if I send a task to a project from the Inbox, but I know that I want to change its position because of sequential groups of tasks.

Caution: These tasks are best addressed as soon as possible.  Otherwise, the system decays quickly.

It should be stressed that, with the exception of “Arrange:”,  these terms are mostly useful for habitual tasks, usually representative of larger projects, areas of focus, or commonly visited lists.  They are also in an evolving state of use.

To Finish or Not to Finish (a List)

There is certainly overlap between some terms. For example, “Read: …” is just another version of “Continue: …” or “Develop: …”.

Other terms, though, such as  “Clear” and “Review”, highlight an important distinction of how we can approach our lists. Some lists are meant to be completed in a period of time. Some lists are not. But it is the acknowledgement of the intention that is most important. The lists themselves do not care.

For example, I have @Laptop as a context. There are presently 84 tasks in it. It would be ridiculous for me to actually work from the context directly. I know that.  But, I still find it to be a very useful context when paired with focus and/or workflow perspectives. If I focus on a particular project, I can see a small number of @Laptop tasks. Suddenly, clearing the tasks makes sense.

As another example, I maintain the @File & Flow tasks as a list that I wish to complete within the span of days. Any task that sits there longer is either poorly placed, not broken down enough, or I need to consider whether it is a larger task than I originally considered or admitted to myself.

 

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sillygwailo
3 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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→ Quitter, my first Mac app

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Inspired by the effectiveness of my Automatic Social Discipline script, I’ve made my first Mac app:

Quitter automatically hides or quits distracting apps after periods of inactivity. I’ve found it tremendously helpful to my work efficiency to hide Slack and quit Tweetbot after 10 minutes.

(Tip: Keep them out of your Dock, too, so when they’re not running, their icons aren’t even visible.)

Quitter is available right here, for free and will likely never be in the Mac App Store due to, among other reasons, its inability to be sandboxed. (Believe me, I tried.) So in addition to the utility it provides, it’s also a learning experience for me to dip my toe into both Mac development and distributing software directly.

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samuel
1297 days ago
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This will be supremely useful.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
sillygwailo
3 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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On The Popularity OF "I Am" / "We Are"

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sillygwailo
3 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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Great Minds Talk About Ideas

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There’s a famous quote:

Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People

This quote is often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but it’s been suggested it was a less pretentious edit of Charles Stewart’s 1901 autobiography:

Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.

Let’s break each one of these down, starting by talking about people, or in other words, gossip. I recently had a friend inadvertently share a story about another person, which was quickly gossiped, and has created drama amongst several social networks. This was a powerful reminder to both of us, that most of our social network doesn’t gossip, or talk about people, and the drama that can unfold when one does.

If you do insist on talking about people, or gossiping, my friend Scott N pointed me to the Buddhist Rights Speech philosophy (part of the Noble Eightfold Path), which I enjoy as a reference when I want to bring up another person in conversation:

  • It is timely
  • It is true
  • It is spoken affectionately, and of good will
  • It has a benefit to being shared

If the answer isn’t a clear and obvious yes to all four of these, hold on to the thought and work through each of these four, or just drop it and move on to more beneficial conversation.

There is a short term benefit to gossip, you get an immediate boost of dopamine as both the sharer and the receiver. The sharer will also experience a release of oxytocin, and potentially even a release of serotonin. As these are the three chemicals that make up happiness, it’s no doubt that it’s physically and emotionally rewarding to gossip. It also improves bonding amongst those who seek out these chemicals, which are typically people who in my experience, lack self discipline.

Why they are referred to as small minds, is because scientifically there’s not enough stimulation in this process to create new neural pathways.

It is my experience that the smallest minds not only gossip, but they talk negatively about others. It takes a little self awareness and observation to notice that talking negative about others, or against the Buddhist Rights Speech mentioned above, hurts the originator more than anyone else, and that anyone doing so is not calm nor contented, and usually less successful than the person they are gossiping about. A gossiper would be better served improving themselves.

When you want to start to move into more objective conversation, you will start to talk about things, such as events. This is referenced in the quote as the level of conversation of an average mind. You will get some of the above chemicals as mentioned above, but less usually, but you’re also introducing a level of thought. The challenge is the thought is likely not much new information, but mostly information that is already known or experienced, so not many neurons are used.

What is likely obvious at this stage in the story is that when you start to express curiosity, or questioning, your brain activity is creating new neural pathways over time as you walk through this new learning. This means you’re actually becoming smarter — and in my experience people automatically think you’re really smart — which it doesn’t mean you are, but it is my recommendation there is no better position to be insatiably curious and perpetually improving your critical thinking skills.

If you’re wondering how you might do this, try to take a contrarian position on something you’re emotionally attached to. If you’re strongly a liberal, try to understand and take the honest position of a conservative. If you’re an atheist, argue how Islam is the correct religion.

It is my observation, or hypothesis, that those who identify as critical thinkers are less settled and less happy, so with everything, there’s a trade off.

The intent of this article isn’t to place a right or wrong on any of the three areas of conversations you usually find yourself in, but to think about which of the three you usually talk about — people, things/events, or ideas, and then to question how that is serving you.

While drafting this article, I came across a poem but I can’t find the original author so I’ll reference a medium post with it and share it here:

I once asked a very successful woman to share her secret with me. She smiled and said to me…
“I started succeeding when I started leaving small fights for small fighters.
I stopped fighting those who gossiped about me…
I stopped fighting with my in laws…
I stopped fighting for attention…
I stopped fighting to meet peoples expectation of me…
I stopped fighting for my rights with inconsiderate people..
I stopped fighting to please everyone…
I stopped fighting to prove they were wrong about me…
I left such fights for those who have nothing else to fight…
And I started fighting for my vision, my dreams, my ideas and my destiny.
The day I gave up on small fights is the day I started becoming successful & so much more content.”
Some fights are not worth your time … Choose what you fight for wisely.

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sillygwailo
7 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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The Omni Show: April Ramm, Support Human

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In the latest episode, April Ramm joins the show to talk about how she triages support email to make sure people who need urgent help are helped as quickly as possible.

We also talk about doing phone support and how rewarding it can be — and then we talk about how she makes jewelry. Check out the show notes for pictures of a couple of beautiful pieces she’s made.

Enjoy!

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sillygwailo
8 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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David Byrne Talks American Utopia, Broadway, And Bicycling Despite Tragedy

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David Byrne in American Utopia

We recently spoke with Byrne, a longtime New Yorker, about the show, the nation, and other NYC topics. [ more › ]

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samuel
47 days ago
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I love how this turned into an interview about bike lanes. It’s the way to experience a city with being carcooned.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
mkalus
36 days ago
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iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
sillygwailo
36 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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