GTD Tips: 1. short names of actions

We live a hectic life where concrete, precise and short information is worth its weight in gold. Unfortuantely, it is not an easy fit. Starting with our overlong emails ( a very good article on this is to be found in Productive! Magazine no.8 by Leo Babauta “Your emails are too long”) through everyday writting to as simple things as name of actions.

Our schools teach us to write long, use description and baisically to pour as much ‘word-water’ as possible. But the times are changing. Now, increasinly wrtiting long proves to be obsolete and simply redundant. It descourages us from doing anything…. if you have to read long instructions before that. Tell me honestly how often have you sit down to read a manual for your DVD recorder if you saw it in form of a 300 page book? I bet you just jumped at using it and though… ‘ I will figure it out along the way’…. and most often you did just fine without it.


Now please explain to me why your task name looks like this:

” Tom please go to the coat rack, pick the dog leash, leash the dog, open the door and take the dog out, please make sure it has enough time for running and doing its things becuase it needs at least 30 minutes of running, plus for his toilet”


By writting long task name you achaive some very negative effects. One of them is that if the person (be it you or someone else) sees the name, they instantly feel repulsed by it. By the way the get half trhough the name they start to feel like idiots that need to be explained everything and you create a mess in their task list, finally people stop respecting you… because they way you phrase your tasks passed to them shows how big esteem you got for them. Would you respect someone who does not seem to value your time or writes to you like you were an idiot?

The key is to provide short and precise information. Don’t you think task like “walk the dog” delegated to Tom says is all??? I believe if you pass it to him, he already knows where the dog leash is, he is aware that dog needs to pee and stuff like that. Else, why would you delegate the task to him in the 1st place?

If there is information you do need to provide Tom with…. why not write it in a note? Why stuff the task name with it? Is a taks name roast chicken that needs as much stuffing as possible? When Tom takes a look at his chores and sees “walk the dog” I bet he will feel better about it then if he sees ” Tom please go to the coat rack, pick the dog leash, leash the dog, open the door and take the dog out, please make sure it has enough time for running and doing its things”. And if you will leave him a note accompaniyng the task saying e.g. “I’ve moved the leash, it’s at the coat rack. Dog needs at least 30 mins run.” I think Tom will preciate it much more then this absurdly long task name you have orignally created.


I know for a fact that I feel much better when I see 1st thing in the morning my NA list and it contains maybe 30-50 tasks with names like “walk the dog”; “view/comment on forum”; “support”; “refunds”; “write Mr. X about a post” and so on… then when I see a list of equally many task but with names length of a parafraph. If I had lists like that I would not even get 1/2 done…just reading the names would take much time… and what about time do perform those things?

Most of those names of task are routine and I don’t even need notes for them, some have notes added by my colleagues informing me who e.g. needs a refund, what is Mr.X email address and all other needed info. But I really do not need to see it as soon as I see the task…. I need it once I get down to doing it.


I would compare creating actions/tasks to writing a book. If you give it a name/title that is too long.. what are you trying to do? Put into it the content of the book? Then why give it a titel? And who is going to read it?

As I see it, most successful are these book (or tasks) that have short intreaguing names. Names that are pure essence of what needs to be done… and not the guts.. guts can be described with as much grousome details as you like in the notes. If you dump the details on someone up front, you will make them simply feel overwhelmed or not even want to take a look at what you ask them to do.

Do think about this next time you will feel tempted to write a novel instead of task name.




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