Task Setting: I have a goal, how do I get there?



So you've figured out what you want to accomplish, now you need to figure out how to accomplish it.As with goal setting, task setting has different levels of complexity and involvement. At very high-level planning, you may need to add in some extra steps once you have your tasks:

  • Your tasks to achieve your goal may be so complex that you need to set sub-tasks to accomplish them.
  • You may have tasks that depend on each other, and so need to be done in a certain order.
  • Especially if you have multiple people working on a project, you may need to have certain tasks done by a certain date in order to meet your deadline.
  • And if you have multiple people working on a project, you will definitely want to determine

But those steps are optional, only necessary for big projects. For many people, simple task setting is sufficient.

Quick-and-Easy Task Setting
In many cases, it's easy to see what you need to do in order to accomplish your goal. If you want to write a novel, you need to open your word processor and start typing. If you want a cleaned-out inbox, you need to start cleaning out emails.

Just one caveat: if your project is going to take more than 1 day, write down your task list, even if it's just on a Post-It note. One of the biggest causes of procrastination is not knowing what you need to do next. If you come into the office tomorrow morning and have a task list on your desk, you are much more likely to sit down and get to work (you don't want to go through this whole task setting process tomorrow!). You'll also have new tasks occur to you as you're working, and you'll want a place to jot those down without disrupting your current work. Keeping track of your task list is a prime aspect of Step 3: project tracking.

Tangible Markers - Supporting Tasks
David Seah sets his resolutions on Groundhog's Day instead of New Year's Day, but his form is great for all kinds of goals. It starts with goal-setting, and then makes those goals specific and measurable by adding "Tangible Markers". From there it helps you set "Supporting Tasks" that will help you achieve your goal. This task-setting process is helpful for thinking about what you really want out of your goal, making sure that you can tell when you've made progress. Keep that form at the front of your Project Tracking system to ensure you're still on-target.

Iterative Task Setting
One of my favorite task-setting systems comes from Barbara Sher's Refuse to Choose . It begins by looking at your goal and saying, "Can I do that tomorrow?" If not, what do you need to do first?Once you have that answer ask again, "Can I do that tomorrow?" If not, what do you need to do first? Continue until you come up with a task that can be done immediately.


    For example, I recently set a goal of getting my MBA. My task list cycle looked like this:
    Get MBA -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Take classes -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Get accepted -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Apply -- can I do that tomorrow?
    Yes -- do it.

    As turns out, the application process was more involved than I thought, and I couldn't do it the next day; I had to start a whole new tree. Apply -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Submit application essays -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Write application essays -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Select which program I want -- can I do that tomorrow?
    No -- what do I need to do first?
    Get a list of programs and requirement s-- can I do that tomorrow?
    Yes -- do it.

    But I worked my way back up the tree and have now taken 4 classes towards my degree.


The major benefit of this task-setting method is that it doesn't pretend to know upfront everything that will be required to complete this goal. It allows you, day-by-day and minute-by-minute, to figure out what the next task is, even if you can't yet figure out how to get all the way to your goal.

The major downside is that it's easy to get involved in the day-to-day and minute-to-minute tasks, and lose sight of why you were doing them in the first place. It is therefore especially crucial that your Step 3: Project Tracking be prepared to keep you on target.



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