Why we prefer to do easier tasks first – vincenthuberta.com

Does progress mean completing tasks? Or does progress mean producing results?
A movement doesn’t equal progress. Input is not progress. Progress is output.

Let’s start with a story

I think we all have this behaviour at least a few times in a week. Some would have this every day. We prefer to do easier tasks first.

For example, here is a hypothetical to-do list that you want to do today with the estimation of duration required in your mind:

  1. Proposal for client A (might take 3 hours)
  2. Check email (might take 3 minutes)
  3. Write a blog post for your company  (might take 2 hours)
  4. Send a few emails to a few co-workers (might take 10 minutes)
  5. Call suppliers to order a few things you need for your company (might take 30 minutes)

*You might have a different to-do-list, but the idea is that we all have a few things that require longer time and much more effort than the rest.

Similar scenario that I have experienced before:

You normally would do the easy things first! You checked your email, then sent a few emails to co-workers, then your co-workers replied, then you replied, then they replied, and boom! It’s 15 minutes. You proceeded to call a few suppliers and they took longer to pick up, they then need to refer to their colleagues and so on. You were bored, so you thought you would browse Facebook for a while and waited for them to get back to me in a few minutes. And boom again! It’s almost 20 minutes in total after everything was confirmed. You saw an article that would change your life according to the headline, and there went another 7 minutes. Wow. You just spent 42 minutes. Then you look at the clock, it is almost 11 am. You will be going to lunch at 12 pm. So you thought, you would start the 3-hour-needed proposal after lunch at around 1.30 pm. So you created the draft for the blog post you wanted to write and then went to lunch. You came back, you checked emails.

You found that there are a few urgent things that require your help NOW. You did everything and made sure things were according to plan. Boom! It’s another 2 hours. You just realized that you have not started the proposal, so you start to write it. However, you have been tired and your ideas do not flow as you wanted. You spent another last 3 hours of your work time and did not finish the proposal. So you have to continue it at home because you have to send it the next day.

Today’s completion: checked emails, sent emails, called some people, did some urgent tasks (that’s what they say), write a draft for a blog post, write half of the proposal.

Did you have an experience similar to this before? I did.

I spent a lot of time completing easier tasks first and eventually drained my energy to do the things that matter. Important things usually take more time to complete. In this case, the proposal.

Why do we prefer to do easier tasks first?

Instant gratification.

We want a sense of progress. And we want it now!

We are addicted to progress. Progress makes us feel better.

We look at a few things that we can do now. We choose the easier ones simply because we know we can complete it faster. We can get the sense of fulfillment faster. We want to feel productive.

Is it really productive to have sent a few emails, or called a few people?

I don’t think so.

3 easy things usually are not as valuable as 1 hard thing.

quote-hard-things-are-valuable-easy-things-are-not-so-valuable-reaching-the-mountaintop-is-evan-williams-131-86-87Evan Williams, co-founder @Twitter

It’s unhealthy to do easier things first

We usually perceive progress as getting things done, completing tasks. Is that really progress?

We need to add a new perspective. A lot of us forget about the difference between input and output. Completing tasks are input.

Getting results are output. So if you have completed a lot of tasks (input) and you have not produced meaningful results (output), you might have not truly progressed.

When we do easier things first, we drain our energy for things that don’t produce significant results. We trade our fresh mind, full energy, and focus for just little input. Insignificant input (completed tasks) produces insignificant output (results).

Isn’t it better to put everything we have into something that actually produces significant results when we start the day?

Problems for people who waste their fresh mind and energy for insignificant things:
  1. Important things are not done on time. It is often delayed. It is a cycle of postponing significant tasks for insignificant tasks.
  2. Confidence is dependent with fake accomplishments. We feel confident and happy when we accomplish something. It is unhealthy to think that we are progressing when we complete tasks, we only progress when we produce meaningful results.
Solutions:
  1. Important things usually take our focus and time. We should always start the day doing the hardest tasks first. We should complete the hardest tasks first because they require our fresh mind and energy. Don’t start the day by checking emails! Emails are usually focus-drainers. Come on, we should have known what we need to do the next morning. That will be a discussion for another post. Finish the hardest tasks before lunch, then start replying emails.
  2. Track results. We have to constantly track the results produced each day. Tracking tasks completion is good, tracking results produced is even better. However, there are a lot of people that don’t even track tasks completion. That would be a merry-go-round. 🙂

merrygoroundWe could be on a moving horse. We could be moving fast. We could be staying at the same place. 

A movement doesn’t equal progress. Input is not progress. Progress is output.

I hope this post is useful. If you have thoughts, reach me: vincent.huberta@gmail.com

I shared something related to instant gratification before, you might want to check it out: How social media harmed our brain and how to stop it.

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