an open notebook with someone writing a task list with hand drawn check boxes next to each task.

How to Write a Clear and Effective Task


This post was written before I fully understood landscape of neurodiversity.

My earlier posts on a productivity system are still relevant. The system works well for autistics and for people with ADHD who need a structure.

We all talk about tasks as a fundamental element of getting things done. After all its task lists that we are trying to get though. Let’s pause for moment and think about what a task is.

A task is something that needs to be done, at some time, by someone.

That sounds nice and simple. It gives us a few questions to answer each time we create a task.

  • What is it that needs to be done?
  • What does done look like?
  • Who needs to do it?
  • When does it need to be done?

Not Too Simple

Tasks descriptions are often too simple e.g., phone mum, do shopping, fix hoover. Can you remember later why you need to phone mum? But not every time.

What about ‘do shopping’? What are you shopping for? Food or gifts? The weekly shop or just for tonight’s dinner?

Fixing the hoover’. Is it broken or just not efficient? Do you need any parts, or tools, or is the task to take it to the repair shop?

These are straight forward tasks, so the chances are that you will remember what they mean, especially if you have created the task.

If your task list contains things you’ve been asked to do, not just things that you have chosen, then the chances of forgetting the detail are higher.

If your list says, ‘Write report’ or ‘Phone supplier’ as actions from your boss will you remember which report or why you are phoning?

Take the time to be clear on the task and write it with all the information you need to know. The ‘Write report’ example becomes…

Write the monthly sales report and send to the CEO by the 5th. Use the attached template.

You will stand a better chance of meeting deadlines, doing the right tasks, and not having to go back and ask for a reminder. There is also less risk of your task list becoming clogged with tasks that are too vague, so you end up avoiding them.


Notice that all the above examples start with a verb. That way it’s clear immediately what kind of task it is. It helps when you scan your list.

Unless you state otherwise, it is safe to assume that you will do the task, as it’s on your list. If you are delegating the task then write it as ‘Ask Fred to … ‘, then change it to ‘Waiting for Fred to …’ once you’ve made the request. 

Write a due date only if it is a real date. Remember a due date is different from the date you will do the task. You will decide when to do a task during your planning and review sessions.

Keep the description brief, only as long as it needs to be. Point yourself at where you can find further details e.g., in the notes field if it’s an electronic task or in your filing if you run a paper system.

As you can see, there is a bit of structure to capturing a task and adding it to your system. If you keep the above questions in mind when someone asks you to do something it will go a long way to keeping control of your task list.


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