The Anatomy Of A Task

Whether you’re doing dishes, performing tasks for clients, or doing project management for a company you’re going to be dealing with the smallest denomination of work: tasks.

Understanding the anatomy of a task, and most importantly how to influence what tasks you’re taking on is foundational to keeping control over your time. To understand a task’s place however we must first understand your two most fundamental resources.

Time and Attention

Everything you do requires both time and attention.

Time ticks on by, and attention is your utilization of that time. Tracking tasks is a way of managing your attention.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say “I don’t have time”, what they’re really saying is that they don’t wish to pay attention to it. We all have the same 24 hours per day. When time runs out is when we pass on.

A task requires your attention, and costs time to perform. Now that we know the two basic resources required to fuel a task, let’s talk about the parts of a task.

What makes up a task?

A task is comprised of the following:

How important the task is. This can be determined by the value of the long term benefits of completing the tasks. A good example would be reading a good book on how to talk to people. That simple task can benefit you for years. In comparison eating a piece of cake has fantastic short term benefits, but mean little, or can even be damaging, in the long run.

Every task has an expiration date. The more urgent a task is, the more important it seems. An example would be cleaning up a dozen eggs that got dropped. If not taken care of asap it will seep into the carpet and stink. Alternatively reading a book isn’t usually urgent. Tasks demanded by others commonly feel urgent.

This is based on Eisenhower’s Matrix.

Common Pitfalls To Avoid

There are a couple of common pitfalls for tasks:

Getting caught up in urgent, unimportant work
Just doing what the boss tells you, buckling into the constant demands of family and friends, or just all around dealing with what just falls onto your lap. There is a time and place for these things, just not all of the time.

The key thing is to make sure you can set aside time, and ideally a space, where you can focus on what’s important. Don’t know what’s important? Then your most important task is to figure out what’s important.

Not knowing how to prioritize
What makes something important or not important? There’s plenty of content out there, but I found this question to be my guiding star:

What is the one thing I can do that, by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?

This is from the amazing book The One Thing, it basically asks you what can you do that will complete other tasks or make them not needed to be done.

For example, say your car breaks down and it will cost $10,000 to fix. You ask around a bit and a close family member has a good vehicle they will sell you for $6000. Instead of paying to get it repaired you get a new(er) car for cheaper, your money stays in the family, and the breakdown issue is completely circumvented.

This is completing three “tasks” in one fell swoop.

Some other methods of prioritizing include:

  • Setting a goal
  • Separating your tasks from everyone else’s tasks
  • Figuring out what tasks create the greatest long term reward

Pain and Pleasure

Many tasks have a short term increase in pleasure, or decrease in pain, that create a long term increase in pain or decrease in pleasure.

Other tasks, far more important ones can at the least be boring in the moment or downright terrifying at the worst, but create long term benefits.

In the following graph, a beneficial task is represented in a green line while a more urgent, non-beneficial task is in red.

Anatomy Of A Task Graph

Completing your tasks that are beneficial on the long run compound and multiply. Eventually you build a great reservoir of good from the things that you’ve accomplished.

Unfortunately however this cuts both ways, so always be conscious of what task your performing and what the long term benefits/consequences of a task may be.

Andrew Kirby discusses this in more detail.

What You Can Do With A Task

This one might seem obvious, but there are actually 3 different things you can do with a task:

You can complete the task
This is the state that everyone thinks of when it comes to a task, that it must always be done. While this is in fact the ideal state of all tasks trying to do everything at once creates lots of stress.

You can delay the task
Delaying the task allows you to use time to your advantage. Assuming you have a system for managing your tasks, whether on paper or digital, you can always take a task and push it out so that you can focus on more important tasks.

You can decide not to perform the task
This is probably the most important skill you could ever learn. Learning how to let go of tasks that you admit you will never get done is one of the most freeing things you can do for yourself.

At the end of the day a task can either be completed or let go. It’s healthy to take some time every once and a while and let go of things you will never get done.

Long Term Effects Of Effective Task Management

If you take the time and energy to develop/adopt a system for managing your tasks the long term effects are huge.

Most systems sell to you that you will “get more done” using their system. This simply isn’t true. Building/adopting a system does two things for you:

  1. Helps you do things faster ( with less effort )
  2. Helps you get the right things done

Remember, you only have 24 hours every day, just like everyone else. Having a good system simply helps you focus your attention and get the most out of that time.

Short, Actionable Tips

If you don’t know what’s important, spend time figuring out what is ( Give yourself plenty of time, at least an hour or two ).

Create and manage lists. Digitally I recommend todoist. For pencil and paper I recommend Bullet Journaling.

You’re not going to get it right the first time.

Commit to completing at least one of your important items per day.

That does it for today’s post. Take care!


Beware Of Your Attention

Attention + Time = Progress

I’ve mentioned this formula in a couple of different places, in a couple of different ways. This formula occurred to me almost a year ago while I was journaling.

Everyone is always talking about time, in fact the main cornerstone of most productivity material out there is on the management and better use of your time.

It’s all about getting more done, more efficiently.

The other half of that equation though is mostly ignored.

How Attention Affects Time

In determining quality of time, you have to consider what you’re paying attention to, not how much you got done.

In short, being more efficient at doing to the wrong things isn’t progress.

As an example for the good majority of my young life I spent a lot of time playing video games. This is what I had considered “Quality Time”, and time paying attention to video games was time that I was happy.

However, excessive gaming is a negative sum game. When overdone the value it creates is far outweighed by its detriments.

With the amount of time and focus spent playing games instead of my finances, relationships, work, or future, my life steadily declined.

Once I reversed this, my quality of life has been on a steady increase, and I’m every day excited about what the future will bring.

We all have the same 24 hours each day, but it’s what we pay focus on during those hours that determine the quality of our lives.

What To Pay Attention To

For me, big progress was made by simply removing what was taking me off course. Namely how much time I was spending paying attention to entertainment technology.

Then, I started paying attention to bigger picture things.

Simply paying attention to these things lead to ideas, ideas lead to plans, plans lead to action, action lead to rewards.

For you, take account of not necessarily how much time you spend on things, but what you’re paying attention to. Are you paying attention to things that grow you or debilitate you?

As an example, my goal is not only to grow myself but others as well, so I’m paying my undivided attention to this post to help people such as yourself out in valuing your attention.

Defending Your Attention

One of the major dangers of the modern world is the demands for our attention.

This is discussed in detail in The Four Agreements, but in short we are trained to give away our attention, along with our time, with no thought on its true value.

As we grow older, we continue freely giving it away.

This is the fundamental wisdom in learning how to say “No”. When you say no you are protecting your attention and your time.

Specifically however, there are new threats to our attention.

Studies have found that adults spend about 8.5 hours per day watching screens. Let’s be gracious and say that 75% of the time is spent doing productive, life enriching things. That means that on average 2.125 hours each day are spent doing things that don’t contribute to life, and are likely negative-sum time.

How much time is that per year? 775.625 hours, that’s 32.31 days.

Running on some assumptions here, but let’s let sink in that the average person spends a whole month each year paying attention to things that either do nothing for them, or actually makes their lives worse.

Using 80/20 thinking, we can assume that “80% of the destructive time is from 20% of what you’re paying attention to”.

That said, there’s likely one thing that you can subtract from your life that can make a huge difference.

For me it was regular exposure to internet and video games. What could it be for you?

Take Your Attention Back

Right now, you’re paying attention to my blog post.

Once you’re done reading it, you will likely turn your attention to something else. Like a book, a project, work, or even your journal.

In short though, this is one of the deep values of a journal. It gives you space to pay attention to yourself. Unlike a screen where everything you do is tracked and sold to the highest bidder and advertisements are always seeking to rob your attention from you, your journal is for you and you alone.

No tech company, no matter how successful and powerful, can try to rob your attention in the form of notifications or disruptive advertising.

Get your attention focused on you, you’ll be shocked what it will bring.

Thanks for reading, take care!


Completing Your Day

Over the past few weeks I’ve been really digging into something that’s brought some big changes. You see, one of the primary ways I use my journal is as a task manager to keep track of things.

I’ve incorporated into my task tracking not only what needs to be done, but also what matters. Because of this I’ve started to see some huge rewards from my Journal.

Creating Space For Leisure

I just recently put up a new prompt titled “What Would Complete My Day?”, and it is game changing.

It has become my very first prompt of the day, because without filling this out you can’t possibility know what to focus on.

This is a reflective prompt, that when used along with a good set of organizational prompts allows you to do something quite outstanding, which is “Completing” your day.

Completing your day “unlocks” your day, and opens it up to more life-living activities and gives you space to think. It creates leisure, and the ability to operate more freely.

So of course, the sooner you complete what’s important, the sooner your day becomes open to you.

“Completing” vs “Finishing” your Day

Up until this point I operated on “I have x hours in the day, so I’m going to get as much done as possible in those hours”.

Did I get a lot done? Yes, of course.

Did I finish each day feeling accomplished? Heck no.

This sucked. I’d work long and hard each day and feel that I had very little accomplished or fulfillment from all that effort.

However as the 80/20 rule states “80% of output is created by 20% of the input”.

In other words, there are only a very few things that actually matter. In this case “Tasks” would be the input and “Fulfillment” will be the output. 80% of the days fulfillment will be created by 20% of the days tasks completed.

Completing that 20% completes your day. You’re done. That 20% is of course defined by figuring out what will complete your day.

Finishing your day, on the other hand, is what happens when you go home.

Everybody finishes their days eventually, whether it’s 5pm, 8pm, or midnight. Very few however seem to “Complete Their Day”. I’ve found that if a day is incomplete you can’t shut up your mind when you try to go to bed, so it’s easy to know if you’re doing the right things or not.

Busting The Productivity Myth

In the end, what this really did for me was break a lot of my preconceptions as to what productivity was.

I always thought that the art of productivity was the ability to do more in less time.

Going to our basic equation of accomplishment: Attention + Time = Progress, we know that time is good, and it’s great to do more in less time, but our attention is a factor too.

What we pay attention to makes progress, and it’s great to get more done. But there is something very important that isn’t directly considered in this equation.

Paying attention to things, over time, costs energy. This puts a cap on what we can accomplish.

To me, productivity was this magic bullet that made paying attention to things over time more efficient, so that I used less energy. This is however only half the truth.

There’s no sense in being efficient at doing the wrong things.

This has caused me to conclude that an unproductive person that does the right things is far more effective than a super productive person who tries to do everything.

Since I’ve started completing my days, my stress level has dropped and I’m starting to balance out my weeks a lot more. I hope you can do the same.

That about does it for this blog post. Let me know what you think!

Take care!


Get Bored

I go to the Flint Farmers Market several times a week to visit family. This week I had a great conversation with my cousin.

About a week ago we had a tornado and while she was trying to rush her boys all to the basement she noticed one of them was dragging their feet, with their eyes glued to their phone.

At that moment she realized that he felt the phone was more important than this life or death situation they were in. She then started restricting their time with technology.

It has been rough, but she has noticed good things coming from it. For instance family time has been happening more.

This conversation lead to the topic of this article.

I had been pondering this article for a while, and offered her some of its core ideas, namely that there is a lot of value in boredom because it gives you space to give life a good think, and start asking questions that maybe needed to be asked.

Her response, and contribution to this article, I felt was very well thought out and wise.

Free Time vs Play Time

My cousin started talking about free time and the value that it brings, during the conversation however it became clear that we had differing definitions of what free time really was.

My definition was time to do whatever you wanted, and it was an old definition that I carried with me since childhood. During that time all of my free time was spent playing video games. This made free time and video games practically synonymous.

Her definition, however, was much healthier.

“Free time is time that I have that is free from all other things.”

Well, can’t argue with that.

I asked her about time spent with her phone or watching TV.

“That’s play time, because I’m spending time enjoying myself.”

The Value of Boredom

In my early days of experimenting with living without internet in my home I got bored really fast. In hindsight, this boredom is really what brought the most value to me.

While sitting there bored, I discovered…

  • I had plenty of time in the world, I was just wasting it
  • I did not spend enough time thinking about myself
  • A lot of my anxiety rooted simply in not taking the time to address and process my own feelings

These amazing realizations would have never come to pass if I continued staying hooked to the internet while home.

It’s of course not that these realizations are particularly deep, they are actually quite obvious. It’s just taking the time to sit down with nothing demanding your attention and let your brain naturally focus on processing what is troubling it.

This is the value of free time, of which boredom is a risk.

Every day I force myself to get a little bored for a while, and during these times my journal has become my most trusted companion.

With a journal in front of you and a bored mind, you can’t help but process your life and figure out what’s important to you.

In Closing

Being bored can be a very rough thing to deal with, and make us very uncomfortable. With today’s technology however it’s easier and easier to occupy a bored mind. This is not good.

Give yourself the space you deserve, take some free time. Maybe try out a new prompt. Afterwards reward yourself with some play time.

Thanks for reading! Take care!


Goal Setting Using The Inbetween Method

Having a goal is very important.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, for all the silliness he represents and how over the top his movies are, is very passionate about achievement.

He worked out 6 hours a day never missing a beat, while working a job in construction while going to school for acting. He pushed himself to the extreme and accomplished things for fun that most people would consider impossible dreams.

Here’s an abridged list of what he has accomplished:

  • Champion Body Builder
  • Power-lifting Champion
  • Movie Celebrity, played in countless roles
  • Governor of California
  • Real Estate Investor

Arnold did all this because he understood the power of goal setting and goal achievement.

There are many methods out there to plan out how to achieve your goal, Arnolds focus is on working your butt off and make sure it’s working towards something.

For myself, I always liked having a plan. It was back in college that I borrowed a tool used in animation as a foundation for how I plan my goals.

How Animators Animate

In the field of animation, there is a method called “Tweening”, or “Inbetweening”.

The method is quite simple, and is used to create animation and movement.

As an example, let’s follow the method and animate a ball rolling across the floor.

Frame 1, we know where we are starting ( Where we are at )
Frame 1, we know where we are starting ( Where we are at )
Fame 2, we know where we want to be ( The Goal )
Frame 2, we know where we want to be ( The Goal )

We’ve got established where we are starting, the ball is on the left, and we want to make the ball be on the right, and create the illusion of movement while doing so.

Using our imbetween method, we draw what the inbetween step would be before the ball ends up to the right.

With our beginning and end defined, we can figure out what's inbetween them
With our beginning and end defined, we can figure out what’s inbetween them

Let’s now see what it looks like so far.

With our start and our end defined, we now "kinda" have an animation.
With our start and our end defined, we now “kinda” have an animation.

As we can see however, it looks choppy, unrefined. So you know what we do?

The same thing we just did, we add some steps inbetween what we’ve already got. Doing this we get two more frames.

Inbetween the start and our middle
Inbetween the start and our middle
Inbetween our middle and our end
Inbetween our middle and our end

Put it all together and you get this:

Final Animation

Much more smooth.

Inbetweening for Goal Setting

As with our ball, we define where we are at and where we want to be.

Defining your starting point

This is crucial, you need to be totally honest with yourself with where you’re at in contrast to where you want to be. It’s easy to protect the ego and say “it’s not as bad as it seems” or “well I did do this and this”. No no no…

You have to be crystal clear on where you are at.

For instance, let’s say you want to own a car.

You would not say “Well, since I can drive my friend/family/parents car I technically have a car”.

No, the fact is you don’t have a car, and the result you are looking for is to have one to call your own.

Let’s say after much thought you’ve decided that your starting point is simply “I don’t have a car”.

Defining your goal

Once again, we need to define with crystal clarity where you want to be or what it is you want to accomplish.

As with defining your starting point you need to be crystal clear, and don’t let substitutions distract you from it.

After some contemplation you’re crystal clear on “Owning a car”.

Making your plan

We’ve defined your starting and ending positions:

  1. I do not own a car
  2. Own a car

Next, let’s use the inbetween method to come up with a reasonable halfway point between where you’re at and your goal.

  1. I do not own a car
  2. Have half the cars down payment in money set aside
  3. Own a car

Okay, that’s better, but let’s inbetween again, work out the feasible halfway points between these three items.

  1. I do not own a car
  2. Secure a source of income
  3. Have half the cars down payment in money set aside
  4. Sit down with a car dealer and discuss options
  5. Own a car

One more time…

  1. I do not own a car
  2. Do some job hunting
  3. Secure a source of income
  4. Start putting aside $300 per month
  5. Have half the cars down payment in money set aside
  6. Have enough for a down payment
  7. Sit down with a car dealer and discuss options
  8. Decide what I can pay each month for a loan
  9. Own a car

You can see within 3 iterations of using this method we have a pretty feasible plan for obtaining a goal. The best part is that it’s already in a step-by-step order!

Started with the starting point at the top of the page, and where we want to be at the bottom, then just filled the rest in between

What do you want to achieve?

Take some time to apply this, really think about where you want to be and use this method to create a step by step plan on how to achieve it.

Using your journal you can track progress, and use it to continue to inspire you to keep at it. A prompt such as Grand Goal can help you keep focused and working toward achieving whatever you want to achieve.

This method has worked quite well for me for the past 8 years, and I hope you get as much value out of it as I did.


Defending Your Journal

Keeping a journal safe can be quite a challenge.

Not keeping it private, but keeping it alive. The struggles to keep to journaling can be a real battle.

The time can pass by so quick, and it’s so easy to just say “screw it”. Energy levels aren’t the only threat however.

In my experience, these are the most dangerous threats to your journal.

Energy ( Or Lack Thereof )

In the beginning, you’ve haven’t yet experienced how energising a journal really is. Because of this it can feel like you’re being wasteful by keeping a journal.

You come home tired, or you got up on the wrong end of the bed, regardless it just feels like the journal weighs 1000 pounds.

The solution: understanding that in the long run you are saving energy.

Over time as you write down your thoughts you are unloading your brain and saving it from carrying scattered, incoherent thoughts. This leads to much better well being and focused thinking.

Consciously understanding this of course is not enough, so try these tips:

  • Write smaller, but more meaningful entries
  • Set a timer, keep your time spent writing at about 10 minutes or less
  • Grab a simple, easy to answer prompt

Lack Of Inspiration

This one is a tough one, equivalent to writers block. You’re sitting there, staring at the page, frozen by blank page syndrome.

Journaling isn’t a smooth experience anymore, it’s rigid. It has to be right. We don’t want to mess up and taint this representation of ourselves.

The solution: Relax, and simply write about why you started journaling in the first place.

Don’t be afraid of writing the same thing every day ( otherwise known as focus prompts ), this keeps your mind on a path that you set, and allows you to relax as you focus on your journal.

These tips can help you overcome a lack of inspiration:

  • If you don’t know what to write about, write about what you think you should be writing about ( sounds silly, but it works )
  • Draw a silly doodle if your journal is open to it
  • Have a set of daily prompts that you use everyday

Fear of Messing Up

This can be the most daunting one of all, because just look at what journaling is promoted to be:

This is a screenshot of “Bullet Journaling” posts on Pinterest

These are beautiful journals, and it would be awesome to make our journals look like this! So we take our time with the inks, the pencils and the markers. We make it colourful and creative…

Then we slip.

Bam, our masterpiece has a flaw that we will see every time we look at the page.

The solution: Don’t stress about making things “perfect”

The real value in your journal isn’t how pretty it is, it’s how it supports your brain in thinking better. Designs that are promoted like this are wonderful, and the people who make them are very talented people.

For most of us though, this level of artistic investment just isn’t practical. And that’s okay.

Stick to content and getting value from your journal, or if you want to keep things pretty stickers/tape might be a good way to dress up your journal without too much energy.

These tips can help you alleviate the stress of a journal.

  • Stick to consistent, daily prompts so you’re doing the same thing every day
  • Understand that the “slip ups” are part of the quirk of your journal, and that it’s the activity, not the result, the makes the journal yours
  • Learn that your unique look is special to you, and deserves your appreciation

In closing, your journal is going to be threatened by many things. There are a lot of temptations out there that will make you want to put your journal down.

But stick to it! Even in as little as a month of journaling you will find great results.

– Devon

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