Boost Productivity by Renaming Tasks

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Categories: Project Delivery

Do you assign yourself a task that's actually framed as an expected result? For example, creating or updating a report is a task, while producing a report is a result of that activity. Or, performing a troubleshooting session is a task; solving a problem is an expected result.

Language impacts how we work and what we accomplish. This reality is illustrated in project management through the use of the work breakdown structures, for example, where we break down the tasks and label them appropriately to be able to execute them. The work seems easier to accomplish that way.

To be productive, tasks need to be executable and controllable. Tasks framed as results are ambiguous because they do not specify an action that can be carried out -- instead, they imply that you will figure out the real action you can do and accomplish.

I find that I get a lot more done when I put a task on my calendar that I know I can control. For instance, I can control hosting a meeting, but I can't control the meeting's outcome. Therefore, the task, "Chair a solution review meeting" has more power than "Get the team to approve a solution." 

When our mind considers a task to be particularly important or ambiguous, it tends to look for an easier outlet or for ways to delay working on that task. It's only when we reword the action in terms that we can understand that we jump to execute the task. The key, I find, is in wording the task as something over which you have actual control.

Look at the work you planned for today or the next seven days. Reword your actions and tasks so that you can have complete control over them. Notice what happens to your productivity and report back.

Have you seen a productivity boost from renaming tasks? 

Posted by Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL on: December 27, 2011 11:15 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Ayman Alkait, PMP
Interesting view. I found "Get the team to approve a solution"  is a much better way to name the task than "Chair a solution review meeting" simply because the latter is NOT result oriented.

It is easy to miss the objective of the task and drag the project because the focus is shifted to 'executing the task' rather than 'ensuring the task outcome is achieved'.

I found in my experience in assigning tasks that leaving the task owner to figure out what it takes to 'get the team to approve a solution' is much more stimulating and effective. This would also ensure the understanding that the task won't be completed by simply 'Chairing a solution review meeting'.

Dmitri Ivanenko
Hey Ayman, it's interesting indeed that you noted that. It sounds good to "get the team to approve it", but what is interesting about this in practical view is that if someone has that as a task often that implies other actual tasks. Remember, we are talking about tasks you create and not deliverables that you are expected to deliver.

That's what I was pointing out. A lot of stuff "sounds" very good, especially for the business, as the business loves results oriented conversations. The challenge for the team that is doing the work is to actually be guided by actionable items. Most of the deliverables actually are an expected result and require actionable items.

People will stop and think of the right action to take when you mention a request or deliverable that is in front of them. Giving a specific action launches them into action. The same happens to us, ourselves, we tend to do the actual work than the "thinking about the work".

Shaun Dicker
In the spirit of “Getting Things Done”, tasks should be renamed so that it is clear what the very next action is. When the next action is clear, it is easier for team members to start working on that next action to move the project/deliverable/product forward.

I agree 100% that “Chair a solution review meeting" has more power than "Get the team to approve a solution."

However, we need to be careful that the resulting task list is not a shopping list of 100’s of small things to do (PMI Scheduling Standard).

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