too many or three

It’s technically spring and the desire for cleaning, completing projects, and starting new ones is strong. My list of deadlines is extreme this time of year. The tasks seem endless and they all seem to have equal priority. How do I avoid the dreaded decision paralysis and get to work?

The temptation to over think and analyze is an easy one. At any one time I have a large number of tasks I could be doing, even within my time blocks. This often leads to decision paralysis — then nothing is completed.

My solution is to reduce my available choices. I try hard to limit myself to three options. Why three? It is one of my favourite numbers and it lets me avoid a secondary trap, either or. I find those to be difficult too.

I try to craft my three items to be a mix of priority, time commitment, and effort.

Yes, priorities are important but remember a mix of high and low priority tasks can provide a better balance to a project. Why? Sometimes a lower priority task can taunt and clutter up your brain. For example, today I needed to run an errand for a project I’m working on this weekend. I knew that I would drive by a store I planned to shop at next week. The item I needed to purchase would last but I didn’t need it today. In the end I evaluated and decided to make the stop. Instead of taking a special trip to this store next week (needing about an hour), a side step of ten minutes crossed a task for next week off my list.

I’m not the only one for this mindset. David Allen of Getting Things Done fame said it best: “Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business, and clearing the desks—cutting loose debris that’s impeding forward motion.”

But beware the lure of clearing out all the old, it might be at the expense of what is important. I saw a tweet earlier this week by Mik Awake “Business idea: a cleaning service staffed entirely by writers on deadline.”

Once I commit to a trio of tasks, it’s easier to move forward on all my tasks. When I don’t take the time to pause and choose three things, my time and day often spiral into one of distraction and procrastination. If I only set one task as the priority for the day, I find that it will fill the entire day.

Do you have a trick to prevent too many tasks leading to decision paralysis?