1. required to be done; needed, essential: | it’s not necessary to watch five back to back episodes of “Star-Trek” on a Sunday afternoon.
2. happening by natural laws of predestination; inevitable: it’s a necessary consequence that the security team gets called in on “The Jeremy Kyle Show”
- Philosophy (of a statement or concept) inevitably resulting from or produced by the nature of things, so that the contrary is impossible. – real world effect: kitchens do not clean themselves.
- That was just some background reading for the message of this article. Following on from the theme of “How to get things done.” is another variation – this being, sorting the necessary tasks from the not-so-necessary; what happens as a result of this, is the “necessary effect”.
The purpose of this article is to encourage thinking, about how to allocate the time lent to us. This will of course mean different things to different people depending on circumstances. Those of you lucky enough to work from home might need more organisational discipline than say a teacher, who has the day set out in a time-table.* That said, the vast majority of earth creatures are completely mindful of what do to with time. Prioritising tasks correctly and to the greatest efficiency is to a large extent a matter of life or death. Cuddly Jonny polar bear needs to prioritise catching tasty seals. Kevin in the IT department has to prioritise his Valentines day date, over playing “World of Warcraft” with the barbarian clan from the Dungeons and Dragons club. The club manager has to organise a venue for the annual Dungeons and Dragons Oktoberfest, or he gets the sack.
Before presenting a list of tips, I must show you how to use the right word:
- Food is essential to human life; survival depends on it.
- Shelter is indispensable in extreme climates. It cannot be done without if the implied purpose – survival, is to be achieved.
- Necessary applies to something without which a goal cannot be fulfilled. Although it generally implies a pressing need rather than an essential one.
So when assessing a list of things to do, it might help to substitute said task into this list. For example:
- Jonny polar bear’s food is essential, he cannot survive without it.
- Finding a venue for the D&D Oktoberfest is essential, or the manager gets fired.
- Painting a new set of Dungeons and Dragons elves is necessary, they are a pressing need, but not essential, survival in the Oktoberfest is still a possibility.
These scenarios are examples of how separating the necessary tasks from the essential tasks requires some thought. Sometimes mental brawn is not enough, that’s where you get a dilemma. (How’s this for a twist? The Dungeons and Dragons club manager is Kevin, which should priority? The venue? or his date? We’ll leave that concept for another article)
Here are some of the best ways to begin prioritising tasks:
- Set aside time to make a list.
Sounds simple, but it works well providing it is acted upon. Writing down what’s on your mind is a way of establishing control. Without control, organisation is a distant fantasy. Seeing all of the tasks in one place allows the left hemisphere of the brain to begin rationalising the situation, bringing the emotional right halve of the brain under your command.
2. Don’t include too much.
Another surprise. Be aware to spot the difference between what you can achieve, and what you’d like to achieve. If, on a Saturday you think that after washing the car, hoovering the entire house, picking kids up from football practise, poring through holiday brochures and cutting the grass you’ll have the energy to complete tax returns, you will be in for a nasty shock. Step 1 is prerequisite for step 2 because only when you have made a list, will you feel rational enough to restrict what you put down. An emotional person in the heat of the moment might list everything to do, if step 1 is rushed. As a result, not even half of the tasks on the list will have been completed by the end of the day, and negative thoughts will begin to hit home§.
3. Consider time restraints.
Eventually, all things may become essential. For the time being however, many will only be necessary, or simply not important at all. Until that moment comes, you can safely do the things that are required yesterday (If you’ve left it too late) or ASAP. Kevin must get on with organising a Dungeons and Dragons Oktoberfest venue immediately, or it could be too late. Similarly to time restraints, think about people restraints. Somebody may urgently need the products of your labour to commence their essential tomfoolery; not following this rule is a sure fire way of getting people to dislike you…
4. Allocate blocks of time to tasks.
There is a theory, that the task expands to fill the time available. I’ve consistently proven this hypothesis many times, so I can help you learn from it.
This is all about giving yourself boundaries. Everybody needs boundaries, otherwise uncertainty creeps in with all its negative vibes. If you are going to make a list of what tasks you need to do, then really make a list. Properly. This might be a typical Saturday for me:
- Tidy the house
- Go out and exercise
- Practise drawing
- Do stuff for work for the plant breeding department.
Now take a look at a revised version:
- Tidy the downstairs of the house for only 1 hour starting from 9 am
- Run from 1pm down the normal route.
- Have some nice lunch at 2pm.
- Sit down in the conservatory with a sketch pad at 4pm, start drawing a photo of someone for about half an hour.
- Take a cup of tea into the study, email the documents on genomes to the plant breeding department at work, Continue designing some DNA primers. [that's tekky science stuff] Only for 45 minutes.
Which do you prefer? The striking difference is the change in detail between the lists. Even though this sequence of tasks does not exist for me personally right here right now, I felt a sense of satisfaction and rationality from including so much detail. Even in a humble blog. Notice also the inclusion of specific time boundaries. This is a huge difference. I can control what I do. Because I have given myself boundaries, I know that to indulge in TV halfway through hoovering would be wrong. With the first list, that boundary is not set and the temptation can massively reduce productivity.
5. When given no other tasks, train yourself to believe that essential ones DO exist.
The secret of motivation is how to start tasks that are not essential, but may become so later on. For this reason it is useful to get in the habit of finding jobs. Lets not get this wrong by imagining what we’d like to achieve, but actually what we realistically achieve. For example, re-shingling the garage roof will eventually become essential, but of course to write down on paper such an arbitrary goal is counterproductive because it’s too much. Remember the rule on time restraints and allocating time?Lists have to be very specific in order to give yourself boundaries. re-shingling the garage roof might therefore be composed of several goal, which, following the rules above need to be prioritised:
- Assess the damage and what exactly needs to be done. (start at 10am)
- Calculate how much shingle is needed.
- Contact a professional to arrange a date for work, or simply to ask for advice e.g. what sort of shingle to use. (12pm)
- Buy the shingle. (afternoon)
- Shingle half the roof tomorrow at 10am.
This mini list needs it’s own organisation. e.g Assessing the damage is indispensable if the goal of re-shingling the roof is to be achieved. Buying the shingle is essential for the work to be completed, even though in the greater scheme of things its only just necessary for the roof to be re-shingled.
As already stated, unpicking exactly what needs to be done to complete goals is a way of focusing the logical mind to bring the situation under control. This is why an overall goal is more achievable when dissected.
The problem with doing this, is that if a task is labelled as necessary, it is technically, only a pressing need and not absolutely essential. The secret of completion would be training yourself to believe that it is essential. This aspect of motivation is what a lot of people struggle with. I myself know that I can realistically send a letter for a deadline on the deadline with no problems, that’s because it’s essential. Sending the same letter before the deadline would be necessary i.e. a pressing need. But because of this label the task is less likely to be done. Pushed to the bottom of the list in favour of facebookifying.
Obviously its impossible to treat every task as essential. Treating everything equally is not a way to prioritise, this technique therefore only works when there are no essential tasks on your list of things to do. Treating necessary tasks as essential allows them to be completed as early as possible, which is the goal of motivation. Only with practise can this technique be successfully employed.
*This is quite a shallow example and might provoke controversy especially from teachers who have to put up with little [expletive] (s) all day. Bearing in mind though, the article wasn’t about coping with the necessary jobs, and its certainly no reflection on which jobs are harder or deserve more merit, only about starting jobs.
§ This is an example of a feedback loop, negative behaviour causes negative results and so on in a cycle. More posts on this soon.