Maybe you don’t call them potato chip tasks. But they are the tasks that you do instead of the tasks that are actually going to take mental capacity (or they push you out of your comfort zone). Potato chip tasks are easy and make you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot. Though the metaphor is mine, I first learned about the human tendency to do easy tasks instead of hard ones for a “pat on the back boost” from The Productivity Project (affiliate link) by Chris Bailey.
Some of my favorite potato chip tasks include:
- Answering emails
- Following up with leads or people I’ve met at conferences
- Research for a personal project (e.g. researching flights for a vacation)
- Checking a client’s Twitter profile for mentions
- Checking my own social media for new notifications or mentions
….you get the point. The thing is, as good as potato chip tasks make us feel, you’re actually not completing very much.
No one became well-known in their field by being the best at email. They became known through the big projects they completed or the insight they’ve given through content or other contributions to the industry.
Let’s take email as an example. Answering email fast is nice for people who want to hear back from you, but is it really beneficial to you, the majority of the time? (And no, arguing that a lead needs to be responded to before you finish up a paying client report isn’t going to fly 🙂 )
Instead of favoring your tiny tasks for the beginning of the day when you feel overwhelmed, I urge you to eat your frogs (affiliate link) and tackle your hardest task as soon as you sit down at your desk to start your day.
While this takes some practice (and I still struggle with it many days), saving your chips for later can make a huge impact on what you get done each day.
So how do you learn to keep those chips in the pantry until you’re ready to get to them?
Getting Over Your Potato Chip Addiction
There’s a few things that have helped me. First, I make two columns in my daily to-do list. (While I love ToDoist for tracking recurring and weekly tasks, I still hand-write a daily task list of top priorities. Nothing like good ol’ pen and paper.)
The first column are my top three priorities of the day. This is another tip I took from The Productivity Project, but I’ve heard it elsewhere as well. These are three things that I may get “in trouble” by not completing. Either my SEJ team would be missing something I was expected to get them, or I had promised a client a deliverable by that day.
In other worse, these are things that even if everything else fell through the cracks, if you completed these three things, then by the end of the day, you could consider your day a success.
In the other column, I place my chip tasks. I usually put these at the bottom right corner of the page, so they don’t look like they are equals to my top three priorities. That way, when I’m ready to tackle these, I can still get the satisfaction of crossing them off my list, which is something that will never stop feeling awesome!
Another strategy I have tried is to block off time in my calendar specifically for my potato chip tasks. I know that from 2-4pm is prime snacking time (when my natural energy begins to dip anyway) and I can tackle these tasks in rapid succession, especially when I’m winding down to end the work day.
While both of these tasks have worked for me, they may not work every day. For instance, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I have so many meetings I can’t block out times. Thursdays and Fridays are much easier.
Experiment with prioritizing on lists or blocking out times and see if that helps you focus better on your big, hairy tasks.
Do you have another strategy to avoid “junk food” tasks before tackling the more important ones? I’d love to hear them!
Photos via pixabay, featured image edited on Pablo by Buffer.