Task Verbs & Project Verbs


Sometimes a task becomes a project simply because of the description we use.

In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen stresses the importance of using the correct words when writing out your tasks (or next action items). First and foremost, he talks about the importance of using verbs and then he further discusses the value of using the correct verbs.

The illustration above shows verbs that denote a) single step next-actions or tasks and b) multi step projects. If you look closely at the list, it becomes obvious which words will better serve for tasks (single action or single step) and which are better for projects (multi step).

For example: If you were to write Organize Christmas holiday trip as a task on your list, where would you start? I can tell you from my past experience that looking at a vague multi-step description like Organize Christmas Holidays has left items like that on my to-do ist for a lot longer than I wanted. Not knowing exactly what you have to do next makes you skip over this 'task' repeatedly BUT if you use the above as a project description and allocate single action steps to it, you see how the larger project has now been sub-divided into smaller, more manageable & doable items; simple and easy to do.

Organize Christmas holiday trip.

(Not a task but a project built on or around the tasks or next actions below).

  • Email Canyon Ranch (Tuscon, AZ) for spa packages.

  • Call Pam for name of hotel and details of her hiking trip in Banff, AB.

  • Decide on destination and hotel.

  • Email hotel for availability.

  • Research flights.

  • Book flights.

  • Book hotel.

Did you notice that the language used? Firstly: verbs only. Secondly: the correct verbs for the project and for the tasks. Simple and direct instructions leaving little to your imagination. As each task is completed you move closer to completion of the project. Now go back and imagine if all you had written on your task list was Organize Christmas trip.

Here are two tips for helping with task and project management:

  1. Remove 'task' from your vocabulary and think in terms of 'next action'. It really helps when looking for the correct wording.

  2. Keep the above list/illustration close at hand for the next few months until you no longer need it for reference. Add words to the list, ones you use more frequently and readily. This list will become a valued tool saving you time and energy when managing your next actions and projects.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It's small steps like this that save you time, energy and stress in the long run.


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