A five-minute activity to discover your most important tasks

Productivity
Takeaway: Not all tasks in your work are created equal. To identify your most important tasks, make a list of all the activities you do over a given month, and then pick the most important one; the one through which you accomplish the most. Then, pick your second and third most important activities.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 35s.

Podcast Length: 2 minutes, 35s (link to play podcast at bottom of post).

Not all tasks in your work are created equal. Here’s how to weed out the tasks on your plate that are the most important:

  1. Make a list of every single activity you do in your job over the course of a given month.
  2. Ask yourself: If you could do just one thing on your list of activities, day in, day out, every single day, which one leads you to accomplish the most? Which is the one task that adds the most value to your team, and makes you the most productive? Which one is the most consequential?
  3. If you could only do one additional activity on your list during the day, which is your second most important activity that adds the most value?
  4. Which is your third most important activity?

These are your most important tasks; the ones through which, for every minute you spend on them, you accomplish significantly much more relative to everything else on your list.

As you do this activity, keep a few things in mind:

  • Find a way to cut everything else on your list. When you can, stop doing the activities that remain on your list. If you can’t, plan ways to spend less time on them. If something is a distraction, tame it. If you have a team, delegate as many of the tasks that remain on your list to them as possible. If you don’t have a team, hire an intern or a virtual assistant to help you. If something is a distraction you can’t tame, block off time to tend to it. Sit down at a coffee shop, without your phone, to decide how to deal with everything else on the list. You’ll make back the time you spend doing this one hundred times over.
  • Keep your three most important activities somewhere visible as you internalize them, such as on a sheet of paper on your desk, or at the very top of your to do list. This lets you consider what’s actually important as you work and plan your day, and you can make them the focus of your three daily intentions.
  • If something that remains on your list is fun, don’t cut it! The point of investing in your productivity isn’t to turn you into some mindless robot—it’s to let you do more of what you love. My three most important tasks are writing, researching productivity, and doing talks. Outside of this, I also love coaching, even though I make less money doing it, and I’m only able to help out one person at a time. But honestly, I don’t really care. Because it’s fun.

This activity is one that I run many of my coaching clients through, and regardless of how many times I guide people through it, they invariably settle on the fact that they have three most important tasks. A couple of people found two important tasks, but so far, no one has had more than three.

Set aside five minutes to try this activity out for yourself. The activity is simple, but the insights it provides are profound. If you’re like me, you won’t go back to working the same way afterward.

Written by

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity, and is the author of two books: Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in 19 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process.

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