Multi-coloured sticky notes piled on top of each other on wall representing task debt concept.
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What is ‘task debt’ and how is it impacting you?

3 Sep 2019

If you have tasks that have been sitting idle at the bottom of your list for months, constantly on the long finger, you may need to assess your level of ‘task debt’.

Are you carrying around a massive amount of ‘task debt’? Sometimes known as to-do list debt, this is a pretty simple concept that eluded being named for a long time. It is, essentially, the word for when you have a number of long-uncompleted tasks that you keep promising yourself that you’ll get around to.

As you continually migrate these odious tasks from one to-do list to the next, the weight of these unfinished items grows heavy. The longer you put it off the larger it looms and, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, it will likely be clouding your mind and drumming up deep-seated anxiety.

Task debt can skew your ability to effectively prioritise tasks, as Twitter user Ginny Di outlined earlier this month, saying: “It becomes harder to prioritise because anything that’s overdue starts to feel like a top priority, regardless of how important the task actually is. It also creates a lot of stress, because you feel like you’re always playing catch-up and putting out fires.”

There a few solutions you can implement if you feel that you’ve gotten yourself into to-do list debt. Firstly, handle your task debt as you would any other debt. Ensure that you always attend to your immediate, necessary expenses (in other words, your most pressing tasks) before you try to chip away at your debt.

You could also try and re-orient your list to make it less stressful by pledging to do a few things. Take larger tasks and break them up into smaller tasks. Spread your immediate tasks for the week across a few days so that you only have, say, one large task, three medium tasks and five little tasks per day.

Examine your outstanding tasks and apply the ‘two-minute rule’ as well. Essentially, if you have a task that can be conquered in less than two minutes, get it out of the way then and there. It’s amazing how much delaying a task can warp its difficulty in your mind and make it seem utterly insurmountable. Tackling it head-on is a great way to cut through the mounting dread that can come from procrastinating

Yet, if you invariably find yourself unable to tackle your debt at all, you may need to take more radical action and declare ‘to-do list bankruptcy’ – in other words, just wipe the slate clean and accept that you’re never going to get to those things.

In all likelihood, your responsibilities and priorities at work have changed since you first jotted down those old, overdue tasks. Ask yourself: do you actually really need to do them? Or do you need to carry around a daily reminder that they have yet to be done?

You don’t necessarily need to delete these tasks from existence. Instead, consider putting them in an archive document, one that you can revisit in a quieter period when you think your schedule is manageable enough to take on some extra duties.

Just because you’re currently bogged down by task debt doesn’t mean it has to cast a shadow over your life.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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