How to set up tasks you’ll actually finish

Take a look at your to-do list. How many tasks have you crossed out, and how many are still hanging there? If your to-do list is empty, then you can pat yourself in the back for a job well done. But if you haven’t made any progression and put zero check marks… believe me, you’re not alone.

“I’ll finish this later…”

When I was in high school, I was very bad at maths. During tests, I’d typically get stuck on an exercise and go “Let’s move to the next. I’ll finish this one later”. And then time was up, I panicked, tried to finish in a hurry, failed, panicked again. Result: bad marks, and compulsory maths back-up lessons in the afternoon.

In my early years of work (before I landed at Timeneye), I used to make the same mistake in my workflow. I had a daily to-do list, but never complete any of it and as I result, both my performance and a reputation at work suffered a real blow.

That’s because unfinished tasks bring your productivity down, creating stress and hurting your motivation. Tasks pile up creating a vicious circle and at some point, you’ll doubt if you’ll ever see the end of it.

On the opposite, completing tasks feels good. I mean, really: completing a task releases dopamine in our brain, making us feel better about our work and ouselves.

Preparation beats procrastination

I had to shake my productivity routine and change my approach to my daily to-dos. I focused more on the work before than the task itself. The keyword is: preparation.

Having unclear expectations or directions over a tasks, or not setting up the right context to work, will make sure to undermine your work and push you towards procrastination.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

– Abraham Lincoln

We’ve listed a step by step guide to follow a killer preparation before setting up to a task, hopefully, it will help you the next time you’re tackling a task.

Before you start

Step #1: Get a great briefing

When you’re assigned a task, get a clear picture of what you have to do, and why. There’s no escaping this. Ask questions, insist on having answers, write everything down. Make sure expectation are clear on the expected outcome of the task and what is required from you.

Step #2: Set a deadline

If you have a deadline, mark it immediately in a calendar. If you don’t, give yourself one anyway. It will create a sense of urgency and strengthen your commitment to finish in time.

Step #3: Gather information

Spend all the time you need gathering information that can come in handy. Prepare a folder on your computer dedicated to gathering documents, spreadsheets, presentations. For example, when I prepare a blog post, I always take time to save relevant links to Pocket.

Step #4: Prepare setting and instruments

Make sure you have a quiet place to work, a tidy desk. Block out distractions and make it clear if you don’t want to be interrupted.

Step #5: Set a timer

Giving yourself a time limit for completing the task is a good way to keep you on track and focused. Remember: the alarm clock is an ally, not an enemy.

Step #6: Try to work non-stop for intervals of time

For example: start with 5 minutes of uninterrupted work, and this will likely get you in the productivity flow and won’t be able to stop.

Step #7: Track your work

Implement some form of time tracking to measure how much time you need to complete a task. This will help you for later reporting and to stop guesstimating future tasks.

Step #8: No distractions

Use headphones to boost concentration, block out noise (and annoying co-workers). Also, associating different music for different tasks can help getting things done more quickly.

After you’ve worked

Step #9: Cross the task from your to do list!

And a little reward, too, could help you boost your motivation: after all, you’ve earned it!

Step #10: Measure and improve

What’s the point of implementing a productivity if you don’t know how you’ve done? Make sure to keep a record of your results and get back to it to find room for improvement.

Wrapping it up

Procrastinating doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job. It only means you’re human. This is just an example on how to prepare in order o get more tasks completed every day. Make sure to add your own spin to it and adapt it to your needs and get ready to get more stuff done.

As always, we’d like to hear from you: how do you ensure to get tasks done? Make sure to let us know in the comments or send us a tweet @Timeneye.

Cover: Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

About Stefania

CMO at Timeneye, making sure the world knows how cool time tracking is. She believes that with careful planning and organization, anything is possible. In her free time, she enjoys reading books and belting out tunes from Broadway musicals (although the neighbors don't seem to appreciate that).