What is a Task?
Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 16:19
Mark Forster in Articles

An email from dvd1955 raises an important point:

Could you please explain a little, maybe in a blog post for all to see, what you consider a “task” to be?  My confusion comes from the fact that the average time you must spend on a task is very low to get the number of tasks completed that you mention in some of your posts. For example, The High-Intensity Use of Time update mentions getting 30 tasks done in less than four hours. That means the average time spent on a task is under 8 minutes. When I look at the first twenty items on my current list, there are only three or four that could be done in under 8 minutes. And many of them would take well over 30 minutes, eating up that four hours very quickly. Some of them could be split into shorter sessions but many cannot.

 Looking at my current list I have some tasks that will take a long time, e.g. 

Some which are “portmanteau tasks”, which will take as long as I choose to give them, e.g. 

Some which will take a medium amount of time, e.g. 

Some which are variable in time taken but usually relatively short, e.g. 

There’s also a special class of very short tasks. I have a lot of them on my list. Some examples: 

These last ones are essential for the smooth running of my work. I do many of them several times a day and they may take only seconds to do. But they are what keep my office efficient and tidy, my papers where I can find them, and so on. 

They are the sort of things which you might find on a checklist. So why not use a checklist? There are some very good reasons. The first is that a checklist is another document that I would have to find. The second is that “Office Checklist” is a large task and therefore tends to get done only once a day. “Tidy Desk” is a small task, especially if it’s done three or four times a day. Having this type of task on the main list gives much more flexibility.

So what is a task?

My answer is “Whatever you want it to be”. The way I write my tasks is the result of long experience in the best to write a particular task for me. I have no standard rules about length or format. My only rule is to write all tasks in such a way that I can remember what they mean. I don’t want to find myself trying to work out what the task “John re Email” refers to. Who on earth is John? His email or mine or someone else’s? What about? Did I mean Joan not John?

Article originally appeared on Get Everything Done (http://markforster.net/).
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