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.
load comments (24)
  • Joy

    I’m actually trying to ease away from an obsession with To Do lists, so your article concerns me a little. I would love some clarification on the following:
    Wouldn’t adding dimensions to your To Do list essentially be fleshing it out, making it even beefier than it was before? If these are your daily routines, then aren’t you adding more time to what HAS to get done in a day and thus are losing time to explore new ideas? I know you used the example of InDesign and said it would save you more time. Thank you for that idea. However, I feel like adding dimensions to a To Do list is counter-productive. In an attempt to add a dimension, one is only spending more time than necessary on a task that just needs to be done.

    Do you have any suggestions for finding a balance in this? So a reader doesn’t spend too much time integrating this idea into their To Do list?

  • Patryk Les

    I’ve just graduated at Art Academy. Many people think that school prepare you for life. It is true, but on “N-level”. Because the process of learning can’t stop in some point and then you are ready. No, no. Every day is new lesson. I did’t reframe on what I was thinking before I had graduated.

  • Dillon Ashcroft

    I don’t like the term N-Dimensional thinking, but adding additional value to mundane tasks to keep them interesting is excellent.

  • blm

    Thanks for the comment,Dillon. Adding value is an important additional dimension that you can add to your list of things to do, and if that’s what you stop at, that is still really good. I like to add other dimensions to help me focus on the things most important as well. How many depends on how I think about it. Hence the N part. (I have a mathematics background  also, so that concept comes naturally to me.)

  • blm

    Thanks, Patryk. Another good way of thinking in N dimensions.

  • blm


  • blm

    Thanks for your comments, Joy.

    The initial idea is tackling the idea of dealing with repetitive tasks
    and making them more meaningful and beneficial. That’s where the idea
    came from.

    If you find that this isn’t a problem for you, you may not find this
    approach as worthwhile. Indeed, there are lots of approaches to making
    sure you make more of your time. I like Mark McGuinness’s idea of
    writing things out on Post-Its as a way of focusing and prioritizing.
    You may have others.

    I keep my Todos in a spreadsheet and I put the additional dimensions
    next to them. Call them dimensions, categories, classifications, what
    have you. That way I don’t lose track of the 100s of todos I track, but
    it also let’s me focus on what I have to do at this very moment, as well
    as 1 week, month or year from now. It doesn’t take much time, because I
    have figured out for the most part what the dimensions I want to add.
    When a new todo comes up, I can quickly flag it and move on. It just
    takes a little practice.

    David Seah has a really good productivity tool for this here:…  How I track
    my todos is here:

  • Santiago Restrepo

    Fantastic approach, I´ve been actually doing this for quite awhile, It started off with the notion of efficiency, The N dimension is definitley what adds value to apparently meaningless tasks. Improve you quotaqtion templete, its the most underappreciated client contact form. If you need to do a boring illustration do it in a technique you´ve been wanting to learn. 

    The priorities may vary, depends how much importance you give to billable tasks, sometimes for me an activity that makes me happy goes way higher on the priority list than a billable task.
    Thanks for the article, I feel backed up now.

  • blm

    Thanks, Santiago! I’m glad to hear it!

    And speaking of this, I think another example of N dimensional thinking can be seen in the design of the Rubix furniture on your site. You have pieces that transform themselves in innovative ways to create more value for the owner. I think the Rubix is nicely done, as are many of the other work you have on display there. Thanks for sharing a link to your site.

  • iCheap Marketing & Design

    Bernie first of all the illustration is saying everything clear as you’ve write the complete article. I also want to share a success tip with everyone that we need to make ourselves list full not listless because we need to make our schedules in a paper or in a digital source to make our complete schedule.

  • Karl of KIWIreviews

    You could use the term ‘layers’ or ‘sorting flags’ or ‘coloured bananas’ – whatever term captures your attention. :)

  • Karl of KIWIreviews

    An excellent article, written clearly and well, that illustrates a very valid option when ‘the daily grind’ is getting you down and reducing your output to below standard levels.

    I stumbled upon a similar concept about a year ago and it saved me from a soul-crushing depression fit and reinvigorated my working life.

    BUT, caveat to the wise… be careful not to OVER-dimensionalise… because then you spend more time sorting than doing. 1-3 added (layers|dimensions|coloured bananas) is more than enough to get things well underway.

  • blm

    Thanks, and I think that is an excellent point to add. There is balance to be made between adding extra dimensions (as you said, 1-3) but not too many. Otherwise, you end up overthinking your todos and not getting things done. Add the dimensions that will do the most for you and try that for now.

  • Sharonthoms

    I believe this is a good idea for when your to do list is getting you down.  Prioritising by value is also a great idea and one that will no doubt put you in good sted with people who are most important to you.

  • essay

    I believ upon a similar concept about a year ago and it saved me from a
    soul-crushing depression fit and reinvigorated my working life.

  • blm

    So why did you use the exact same comment as the one below it? Would it have anything to do with your identity being associated with a Essay Writing service?

  • essay help

    Written simply and tastefully. It’s pleasant to read. Thank u.

  • Mike Monday

    I’ve been using “purpose” as my method for prioritising my to do list. And it’s worked a treat. I’m working less and doing more.

    But using “value” is a fabulous idea. I shall use it next week and see what happens.

  • blm

    Purpose is a good one, too. A great way to save time on an activity is to go through the tasks that make up an activity and ask what is the purpose of each one. If the purpose is lost, maybe it can eliminated from the list. That can provide alot of benefit right there.

    Thanks for adding this.

  • Dan Peck

    Why not consider DigitalSilence-lite – 3hours without technology
    Get more out of your day by not letting your digital world take over…

  • thesis

    very cool post! thanks!

  • Carolina

    is a routine leaves you are motivation, what the truth is bad enough. Well sometimes it’s necessary. Carolina – paginas web

  • charles looker

    This is pretty interesting – I’m writing about n-dimensionality in a mathematical sense on my blog. Dimensionality is only the basis for a value in its space – its why you can have a dimensionality of 30, with hundreds if not thousands of values existing in its space.

    If two tasks each have a dimension, a third task can be placed when task a is reached and task b is reached – this is the process of disconnecting a value to a dimension. They don’t have to be 1:1.

    So the power isnt in just singular dimensions its that values aka tasks can be place anyway in the dimensional space – this in a way gives us the notion of dependency.

  • Just_passing_thru

    There is also this notion that the time we spend on our routine tasks need not be real; but instead virtual to enhance the results of n-dimensional-thinking/doing. Here is an interesting post… that better explains this concept.

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