The piece missing from your task list: "why?"

Most task lists encourage specifying just a single detail per task; what? Maybe a “when” or “how” field is also offered, but seldom exists a space for noting why a task should be done. Whatever form your task list takes, such a space should be mandatory for any task you’re inclined to procrastinate.

People usually need a good incentive to do things that don’t have an immediate reward. Often, even with tasks we know need to get done, this incentive is not clear enough to get started. When I put a reason in writing, it helps convince me that whatever I should be doing is a better use of the present moment than one more episode of Arrested Development. Not just because “it’s more important” but because of the reason I had to come up with and write down myself.

“Look for a job”, for example, is an item that recently entered my Reminders list as my school year ended last week. This is an easy one to put off while I’m quite enjoying getting up at noon and doing nothing all day. There’s also no immediate reward. Thinking through the long-term reward and writing it down was necessary to begin effortfully applying for summer jobs this early. A look at my bank account balance might’ve done the trick just fine, though.

Going a step further to connect these “why’s” to actual impact on my life turns the effectiveness of my task list up yet another notch. Instead of “I should workout to get buff”, putting “I should workout to pull some bad bitches at the beach” is more likely to get me actually doing some sit-ups.

“Why’s” in writing make me more likely to get tasks done, and more satisfying to check off when I do.