Task Management: Prevent Mice from Becoming Elephants

It’s fascinating how we can work on big opportunities, big challenges, important decisions and manage high pressure well – and then the tiniest thing can really stress us out. Like in a cartoon I watched as a child where a massive elephant was afraid of a tiny mouse.

Sometimes we get a backlog of little mice – 20, 40 or 100 of them scampering around our feet. Although there is no real danger and they are minuscule on the scale of what we deal with, they distract us, weigh us down and make us crabby.

They own you. They show up in your sleep and haunt your days until those mice become as big as elephants.

In my book, I call these Toads: all the annoying little things that you procrastinate dealing with which, once done, free your time and energy for bigger and better things (Chapter 5 Your Oxygen Mask First).

The little things you procrastinate consume far, far more energy than you believe – and that they deserve.

I’ve seen many successful leaders – distracted by loose ends tangling in their brains – taken down or reduced to lesser versions of themselves.

As silly as it may sound, sometimes we need an extra nudge and a reminder to get these things out of the way – like the CEO I currently work with who has been putting off renewing his driver’s license and getting a colonoscopy.

Name Your Toads

As part of our Quarterly planning and goal setting process, we ask people set their top goals for Work, Self and Life and to make a list of their toads in each area because, no matter how hard you push forward, they are like elastic bands, tied to your ankle and holding you back.

The 5 D’s of Task Management

Here are five standard ways to lick a toad. Choose the one that makes the most sense for the situation:

  • Do it. Bite the bullet immediately.
  • Don’t do it. Say ‘no’ to the person who requested it, if it’s simply not yours to do.
  • Delegate it. Assign an appropriate person.
  • Delete it. Let go of it entirely. Decide it’s not going to happen.
  • Date it. Commit to completing it by a specific date sometime down the road. Do not use this as a default. Only apply this when now truly is not the right time to deal with the task.

The funniest thing? You’ll find that, after thinking about your toads for days, months or years, dealing with them is never as bad – or as time-consuming – as you thought.

The Challenge

  • What are the toads you need to lick this month – the top two in each area of your Work, Self and Life that you think about the most?
  • Which of task management D’s are you going to apply to those toads?