zen habits : breathe

The Art of Choosing Important Tasks

Post written by Leo Babauta.

One of the Week 1 habits is choosing a Most Important Task each day. I’ve found this to be one of the best things I’ve ever done in my work day, because it helps me to focus, I get important stuff done, and I can accomplish a lot with less effort.

But how do you choose a Most Important Task? How do you prioritize among all the things you can possibly do? What if there are several important tasks? What do you do with the other tasks?

Let’s look at all these questions. But first, let’s quickly talk about why it’s important to do this habit.

Why It’s Important

In the context of procrastination, it’s easy to put off doing important things by doing a lot of smaller tasks, or incoming tasks that might seem urgent. But that means the important stuff gets pushed back.

Picking an important task means part of your job is done: you know what you should be working on, and you know that if you’re not working on it, you’re procrastinating. So then all you have to do is start (we’ll get to that next week).

Picking out an important task means you have thought through your priorities, and you know what makes the biggest difference in your work and life in general.

It’s also a rewarding way to start your day — pick a Most Important Task, and get it done!

When To Pick Your MIT

When do you pick your MIT? Honestly, any time of day is fine, but I’ve found some benefits from two different times, and you might consider them depending on your needs and routine:

1. First thing in the morning. When you get up, before you check email or social networks or news, perhaps with your first cup of coffee or tea, sit down and write down your MIT. You might pick three MITs, and put an asterisk next to the one you’re going to focus on first. This is great because it starts your day with some focus.

2. The night before. If it works better for you, you might consider writing out your MIT(s) before you go to bed. This has the benefit of getting you thinking about your next day ahead of time, and starting your day ready to go, without any doubt about what task you should start with.

What’s an Important Task?

If you have a wide array of things to choose from, how do you know what’s important and what’s just urgent? Consider this question: of the tasks before you, which will have the biggest impact on your life?

As a writer, the thing that has the biggest impact is writing a great blog post, a chapter in a book, etc. This is much more important than doing email, social media, checking stats, working on the design of my site, responding to readers, etc. I’ve learned this through trial and error — spend my time doing different things and see what the outcome is, in terms of growing my readership, growing my business, growing my income, enjoying what I do.

This might not be as clear to you, so it’ll take some trial and error. What matters most? Don’t consider what seems most pressing, but what will make the biggest impact. If you’re not sure, just make a gut pick — don’t dwell too much on it. It doesn’t have to be a perfect pick — you just want to pick it.

When There Are More Than One MIT

Let’s say you’ve asked yourself what task will have the most impact, and there are 3-4 great candidates. Where do you start?

If all 3-4 of them are excellent candidates, then the answer is it doesn’t matter where you start. Any of them would be great. So pick one and start. How do you pick? I’d suggest just going with a gut pick, not hesitating but picking one based on what feels right.

But if you’d rather, pick the one that you’re most excited about. Or the one that’s most fun. If all that fails, pick randomly.

Dealing With Smaller Tasks

So what about all the other tasks? Don’t those need to get done too?

Sure, but not before the MIT. Have a second list of other tasks that need to get done, knowing that you probably won’t get them all done today, and that’s OK. It’s much better to get the important stuff done and leave some of the smaller stuff undone.

I like to reserve the morning for my MITs, and have some time later in the day for the smaller tasks. If you give yourself a chunk of time for the smaller tasks, you can often knock them off the list quickly.

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