Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

N-Dimensional Thinking: How To Get More Out Of Your Daily To-Dos

In our jobs and in our lives, we often find ourselves facing the same list of things to do: attend the daily meeting, produce the monthly report, update the website, finish the annual reviews. Such repetition can rapidly get stale, leaving us unmotivated, uninspired, and unproductive. Sometimes we are lucky and we can delegate or drop such tasks, but, more often than not, we have to plough through. What can we do about this?

One way to re-energize repetitious tasks is by employing what I call N-dimensional thinking. Look at your current to-do list. It’s like a straight line, filled with tasks. In other words, it’s one-dimensional. But what if you transformed each task into something richer? Something that provides value, or something that helps you grow and learn?

Let me show you what I mean. You can start by associating each task with something else – in essence, creating another dimension. The first dimension I recommend you add to your to-do list is Value. Analyze your tasks and associate a value with each of them; it could be a value that they provide to you, your clients, your boss, or other people who are important to you.

Rather than prioritizing your tasks without much thought or based on some other arbitrary criteria – like when someone decided to email you and ask for something, for example – focus on the putting the tasks that provide the most value at the top of your list.

When new tasks come in, you should quickly review your list and gauge what value they provide. If it’s high, perhaps they jump the queue and get done sooner than other tasks on your list. If they provide little value, then they can probably go at the bottom of the list. (Or maybe they shouldn’t be on the list at all.)

What if you transformed each task into something richer? Something that provides value, or helps you grow and learn?

For example, you might start your day by scanning your inbox to see if there are any new tasks that you need to add to your list. As you assess which tasks should take priority, you might say: The tasks that have to do with current billable work have the most value to me and therefore get the highest priority, followed by those that will result in future billable work.

You will still capture the less valuable tasks that need to get done, but they will go at the bottom of your list, because billable tasks get tackled first. Throughout the day, you may revisit your inbox to see what else came in, again focused on those tasks related to billable work, while those relating to other areas like marketing or networking get lower priority.

By consistently doing this, you will not only be breaking out of your routine (which is good), you will also be maximizing the benefit you provide to yourself and others just by adding this one additional dimension (which is really good).

Once you get the hang of that, you can analyze the tasks that you are doing on a regular basis and see how you can transform them with additional dimensions. For example, let’s say you have to draft up a contract for a client project, a rather humdrum task. Applying N-dimensional thinking, you decide to transform this task by increasing its overall efficiency (one new dimension), improving the contract template design (a second dimension), and learning a new application that will add value to your general skill set and resumé (a third dimension).

You can analyze the tasks that you are doing on a regular basis and see how you can transform them with additional dimensions.

So how does this play out? Instead of using MS Word to draft up the contract like usual, you decide to learn the basics of InDesign, so that you can have more control over the layout. You create a better-looking contract template using InDesign, and also learn how to embed your signature as an image in the document. Now, instead of faxing the document, you can just output it to PDF and email to the client for signature, thus eliminating an annoying and time-consuming step.

In each of these transformations, you have learned new skills, created a document that reflects your branding more powerfully, and reduced the time this same task will take in the future.

As you can see, applying N-dimensional thinking helps you: (1) Focus on completing the most valuable tasks, and (2) learn new skills while executing them. And both of these things lead to a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of your day.

Now It’s Your Turn

What to-do list items are you cycling through regularly?

How can you add dimensions to transform it into something more meaningful for you and for others?

More insights on: Task Management

Bernie Michalik

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Bernie is a senior consultant with IBM. He provides leadership to global teams that create complex IT solutions for his clients. In the years of doing this, he has developed innovative ways to be most effective productively as well as creatively. He enjoys sharing that knowledge with a wide range of people, from deep technologists to UX specialists. Though highly mobile, he is based at the IBM Centre for Solution Innovation in Toronto.
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