The Psychology of Marking a Task Complete

If your job responsibility is anything like mine, you will likely be handling multiple projects at the same time, all with different stakeholders, some with outside consultants, some with coworkers from other departments, and all with varying degree of complexity and pain points. But yet you still need to deliver the projects on time, so how do you make sure progress is made daily on all projects to ensure success?

Defining Next Action

Personally I utilize the "Getting Things Done" system by David Allen. I can bore you for hours on the components and the why of this system, but here I would like to focus on one specific aspect that skyrocket my productivity - defining next action. To put simply, each project should have a "next action", an action that is simple enough to complete by yourself or assign to others, and it is the type of action that will move the project along. This next action also needs to be very specific single task item that, when done, will trigger you to define the following "next action" until the project can be mark completed.

Let's use one of my recurring weekly task as an example - writing a blog post. If I just put "write a blog post" and set a due date on the day it is suppose to publish, it became a big enough task that I cannot simply work on and mark complete in one shot. As my week goes on and more tasks are added to my daily to-do list, my brain will begin labeling this multi-step task as not immediately actionable, and will tend to tell myself : "you need to set aside a bigger chunk of time to do this". So I break it down to multiple single-action tasks and turn "write a blog post" into a project. Here is what it looks like:

  • Brainstorm 3 potential topic
  • Conduct initial research on potential topic A
  • Conduct initial research on potential topic B
  • Conduct initial research on potential topic C
  • Review research materials and set publish date for all topics

From this point I move on to writing my blog post for topic A (B and C are of later date or will be discarded so I will not cover those here)

  • Complete first draft of topic A
  • Review and complete second draft
  • Send to reviewer A for feedback (assigned task)
  • Get feedback updates / review feedback (this task is critical to ensure things don't "fall through the cracks" when I become engaged with other projects while waiting - this task will also have a rolling due date, each time this task is due I will reach out for updates and defer task to 1 or 2 days later)
  • Complete final draft (if reviewer came back with a suggestion to re-write, this will become the first draft task and reset the following tasks)
  • Forward final draft to graphic designer for image
  • Follow up with graphic designer for first draft
  • Review first draft and provide feedback
  • Follow up with graphic designer for second / final draft
  • Review final draft
  • Enter post and image into content-management system (CMS)
  • Set public date
  • Set post tags and categories
  • Forward review URL to reviewer for final review
  • Follow up with reviewer on review
  • Set post date or make live
  • Confirm post is live
  • Post articles on company LinkedIn page
  • Tweet article on company twitter page
  • Set sponsored post campaign on LinkedIn (If not setting sponsor post I will skip this task)
  • Send internal email to alert new post

You may feel this is an unnecessary complicated list, but each of these task are designed to be quick, single-action that will move the project along towards complete. Moreover, this task list also becomes a checklist, this template ensures that each blog post draft were reviewed at once three times, and each post will be deployed to our social media audience and internal folks.

The first, and perhaps the most rewarding, benefit of this system, is that no matter how busy I am with other projects, I know exactly where each project is and what I need to do to speed it along if required. With this method I am labeled by my superior as "super independent", "I can fully trust that when I give Jonathan a project he will get it done without fail."

Becoming a Trusted Adviser

Plan for Success so you Don't Fail