Be smart about tasks

There are a lot to think about when it comes to performing tasks. I will come back to that later on, but for now, here are three golden rules for productive task management.

The Two Minutes Rule

If a task takes less then two minutes to perform, do it directly. It is typically not worth the time to postpone or delegate, make a note, follow-up etc if it’s a task that you can do so quickly. The most productive solution is to just do it.

Do you need ot write it down?

The exception from the Two Minutes Rule is of course if you can’t perform the task directly. Let’s say that you’re at work and just remembered that you need to do something at home. Then you’re not able to do it directly and should write it down in you task-manager tool – or maybe not. It might be worth to think twice. Do you need to write it down or would you remember it anyway? You do probably not need to make a note of unlock the door when you get home, if it’s locked you will notice that anyway.

If you know that you’ll have a lamp in the car warning you that you’re running out of gas and you know that you soon will run an errand and have enough time to go to a gas station as well, you might not need to ad a note about it.

If you know that you have no appointments tomorrow morning when you get to office and your desk is a mess, you might not need to make a note of cleaning it. You will notice and fix it without a note. But if you’re planing your day from home. it might be a good idea to make a note anyway, so you’re not planning for other task first thing in the morning.

Which are the three most important tasks today?

When I’m talking about planning your day, I’m thinking of looking in to the calendar, and consider how much time you have to work on you task list. When that’s done, go through your task lists and find the three most important task to perform. That’s what you should focus on. If the tasks are pretty small you can increase the numbers. On the other hand, if the task will take all day it might be enough with just one task although you might should consider to break it down to smaller tasks.

Personal Assistant, not as expensive as you might think.

Outsource work related tasks.

I’ve been using a virtual personal assistant from time to time and the reason is obvious. If I can earn let’s say 50 dollars per hour for performing a task and I can let someone do it for me for 10 dollars, I can perform another task at the same time to be twice as productive, or get some time off. I got the idea for the first time from the book 4 hour work week.

The trick is to get salary or clients in the rich part of the world where you can charge well for your time, and outsource tasks to the poor part of the world where the salaries are low.

Or use the assistant to increase your offer. Let’s say that you want to provide support 24h for a service or a product you’re selling. Let the assistant take car of it, at least during the night shift, and  they can at least ask the FAQ and see if it solves the problem and if not wake you up to solve the problem and at the same time order you pizza and coffee for delivery from a restaurant nearby.

Delegate private tasks

But I’m not only talking about outsourcing work related tasks, you might also outsource some from your private life to help you to solve the life puzzle. Of course it’s difficult to outsource to someone around the world to pick up your kids form school. But you may outsource the task to order a taxi to pick up your kids although I should normally not recommend it, as it takes as much time to describe the task as to perform it (given that you know the number to the taxi company and can arrange payment etc).

If you’re buying some kind of a service and would like to have different proposals for that service and you don’t even know who can provide that service (a plumber for your summer house or a premise for a huge wedding party or whatever). Ask the assistant to do the research and ask for proposals. Or let’s say that you need to check with your mother in law that she’s alive and not have fell and you just can’t stand to talk to her. Let the assistant do the daily call. And why not once in a week order flowers to your wife to make sure she’s not to upset with the fact at you can’t stand her mother.

What to think of before you hire an assistant?

But there are some aspects to consider before you sign up with an assistent:

What kind of tasks will you outsource?

That’s the main question. If you don’t have some really obvious tasks I would sugget that you make a list of at least 5-10 different tasks that you may consider to outsource to an assistant. Do also think of how the task will be performed. Will you be able to describe exactly what you want? Will the task be performed as you would like to have it performed?

Is language an issue?

If you’re doing most of you work in English, there are ton’s of good assistants to pick from. I have positive experience from Get Friday. But they might not handle Spanish, Swedish or German language.

On the other hand, if you’re doing a lot of work in Spanish I’m pretty sure you can find an assistant in Latin America to help you.

Do you need a backup for your assistant?

If you really need to be relying on your assistant, you should use a company with various virtual assistants so someone can take over if your personal assistant is absent for whatever reason.

If you need an assistant physically close to you?

Most of the article is about a virtual assistant to keep cost down. But if you need an assistant to for example take care of your garden. Well look at your neighbors kids. Maybe one of them would like to earn some extra money. Or would you like to do some charity at the same time, how about askind the guy begging outside your closest super market? If you don’t like of these to solutions, well, an virtual assistant can certainly do the research and provide some answers for you, don’t hesitate to ask.

Evernote as a note-taking tool and To-Do-list

Evernote has some outstanding features.

There are various tools around productivity out there. One of my absolute favorites is Evernote. You have probably heard of it, It’s a note-taking tool just like One-Note or Notes in the Apple-environment. The reasons I prefer Evernote in front of the others are the following:

  • Evernote is available at every kind of device, which is important for productivity. If it’s not available it’s difficult to be productive.
  • Evernote has a built-in OCR-function to read PDF:s and search from them. It’s very useful when you remember the first name of someone and can find all business cards with that first name on. Just as a small example.
  • You can add all kind of notes to one place. I use it to scan all my relevant snail mails, receipts, business cards etc.
  • They can handle unlimited number of tags and multiple tags on just one note. It make sense when I for example both want to mark a note with a Customers Name and a context like “calls” for a todo-list. Or when a note is connected to both a partner, a client and a colleague. But it might also be a phone or what-ever kind of note related to two of your friends and you want to tag both of them.
  • I can make handwritten notes direct on my iPad and have them saved and searchable from within Evernote.

Some of the other tools out there have the same features, but so far I haven’t seen one with all of the above features. Therefore Evernote is the best Note-taking-tool.

Evernote as a To-Do-list

I’m using Evernote as a to-do-list as well for various years and it’s a powerful tool even as a to-do-list. Especially the tag-function that gives the opportunity to add a context to a certain task plus a project name or priority or whatever information I want to tag it with.

I have tried to have a list of activities in one note based on context, for example all errands in one note and then just tick the box at each errand when completed.

I must still say that I prefer to have each activity as a separate note. It’s easier to move an activity from one context to another. For example when I leave someone a voice mail and want to move them from “phone” to “waiting”. But also to add information to the task. The back sides of using one note for each task are that they don’t have support for the tick-boxes at the title row so instead of marking a task done by ticking a box I have to move it to another notebook and/or add a tag.

I tried to move over to OmniFocus, which is made as a tool for GTD-metodology which I pretty much follow but I have returned to Evernote although there are some features in OmniFocus, especially around recurring activities that I really appreciate and would like to se in Evernote and it’s possible to link to a specific note in Evernote from a task in OmniFocus.

The tags and the web and Windowsversion of Evernote is something that really makes it easier to use than OmniFocus.


The basics about personal productivity.

To be productive, it’s absolutely a basic demand to know what you want to achieve. If you don’t know what ti achieve, you have no chance to achieve it. So to be productive on a personal plan I would definitely recommend you to do a list of the areas:

Your life values.

What’s the most important in your life? What would make you feel that you have had a great life when you’re old and looking back at what you’ve done in your life? If you don’t know what you want to achieve you can never be productive. And it’s a fact that most people are working their asses of doing things that don’t makes them reach their goals or to be happy. Value are different to goals as values doesn’t have to be measurable. Values can be to be a good father, a faithful husband or a productive employee.

What’s your goals?

Some people think that a new year is a good starting point for changes in their lives.So the gyms are crowded with people in January and half of February before it’ goes back to normal again. Instead of setting new habits I prefer to set my goals of the year. The goals must be measurable so you can tick of the box when you have achieved them. I would recommend you to have 5-10 goals, and remember not all of them should be about work. It’s important to also have balance in life and handle the life puzzle in a positive way. IF you prefer to set goals in 2 or five years, feel free to do so. It’s not about what’s the right periods but more about finding what’s important for you.

Areas of responsibility.

Beside of what you really want to achieve during the year you might have som responsibilities beyond that, for example around charity, social work, to take care of your beloved ones, or at least to keep your house healthy and decently cleaned. Whether you like it or not your job is a responsibility, or at least to fill in the report to get the support from the unemployment security. Even if you hate your job, it helps you to get the bills paid so you should at least reach a decent level of productivity, If you want a pay raise or make a career it might be wise to be even more productive.

When you know what your values, goals and responsibilities are it’s easier to se which activities you need to focus on to be productive. It’s not productive to work hard on something that you’re not interested in, or getting paid for in one way or another.