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A Task System That Actually Works for Distracted People

I’m not sure if I have ADD, but every time I encounter a TikTok or article that is supposed to speak to those folks, I feel like the target audience.

I am distracted to a degree that gets in the way of basic tasks, chores, and sequencing—doing things in the right order. I am the guy who never enjoys a full hot breakfast because I can’t seem to figure out the order of fry eggs, start toast, and nuke coffee. And I can literally make a verbal commitment to my family and completely forget the conversation within an hour.

Something is wrong with my “super” computer. Maybe I should get that checked out. But I have to say, thanks to some really insightful conversations with my wife and some visual-spatial systems, I have come a long way in improving my task flow, and the benefits are sticking six months later.

Maybe it can work for you too.

If you can, devote an entire room to “work”

There’s plenty of evidence to back the dedicated space concept. I finally did something about it. I prepared a (relatively) clean workspace, with designated places for mail, writing utensils, and so on. It just has to be tidy enough that you can use the room for a task without getting sucked into other unplanned tasks.

Next, print crisp infographics for your self-management processes

When I sit down at my desk, I immediately see from left to right:

  1. My morning routine (a modified version of the “Miracle Morning” from Hal Elrod)

  2. My daily Task Flow process

  3. My personalized affirmations

  4. My ideal time frames for different types of work

  5. My wife’s regular schedule so that I can coordinate and anticipate her needs.

Each of these infographics is worthy of its own deep dive, but here are the basics: they are designed to keep first things first, to provide externalized clarity for my brain, and to give me a track to gently return to whenever I get distracted.

I also took the time to make them colorful, using Canva for free. Easy peasy. Aesthetics matter, because your environment affects you deeply. So make something that looks a bit nice! Even the smallest positive impact multiplied by 100+ interactions can go a long way.

Here’s my Task Flow infographic:

It’s nothing revolutionary, right?

But common sense isn’t necessarily common practice.

Task Flow Details

This is something that I can do every single day no matter the specifics.

Let me break it down, rephrasing each step so it’s accessible with whatever tools you use.

1. Put everything into ONE app the moment you think of it

You probably won’t keep an analog planner on you at all times, but chances are, you feel naked without your phone.

Use this to your advantage. Your phone’s job is to house the digital to-do lists that you can add to whenever something pops into your head. (I use Google Keep). Put EVERYTHING in there as you think of it. This way, nothing is ever truly lost. There is a searchable database on your person at all times.

For the sake of keeping clutter to a minimum, I recommend using a general “Priority” list in your digital to-do app, and a few separate lists for other categories that you find helpful, like “Romance,” “Just for Fun,” or “Side Projects.”

The key is to keep things lean enough that your brain doesn’t freeze up looking at a mile-long list. Non-urgent tasks shouldn’t be on the same list as priority tasks.

2. At the start of each day, move relevant items to your daily planner

Embracing the phone doesn’t have to mean getting lost in the digital sauce. I make my plans physical by converting digital items to an analog planner—writing them down.

I have to slow you down here and get a bit emphatic.

I am physically opening my planner. I am physically grabbing my phone. I am laying them out side by side.

I scan for the tasks that are both urgent and important, and write them down in the planner, blocking out times for each major task. Then I use the filler space for tasks that are easier on my brain.

This habit enhances memory because it incorporates tactile, visual, spatial, and muscular data into your task flow. For the same reasons, it also primes you for those tasks better than merely checking your phone (which is also where you goof off).

Which planner? Do some hunting. I’ve tried the Full Focus Planner, the Next Level Daily, and Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Planner. Each is good in its own way, but find what works for you.

If you prefer to plan each day the night before, then great. Do that. It certainly has its benefits. I am in the gig economy, and I often find that I won’t be sure of what I am doing until the day of, so morning works better for me.

3. Put *only* date-specific information into your digital calendar, and if you have a shared analog calendar with your family put *only* the events that have a shared impact

This one took a while to discover.

I was doing too much calendaring and got bogged down in shuffling digital events. It became its own chore rather than serving me, and my Google Calendar became so saturated that my brain would freeze up when I looked at it.

Even setting reminders didn’t work. I had so many that I became numb!

Turns out, I had slowly built unintended habits of ignoring recurring events, and those bled over into some events that really mattered.

Then my wife (who is a genius) suggested I gut my digital calendar and only put things on there that:

  • I wanted to be reminded about

  • Are date-specific, and

  • Are not happening today!

  • Anything happening today goes in the analog planner.

Anything further out that falls on a certain date and takes reminding is perfect for a digital calendar.

Now, when I get reminders, I actually heed them, and when I open my calendar, it only has crucial information. I love it.

The second part of this step is for couples and families.

My wife and I keep a physical calendar hanging in our bedroom that has “shared-impact” events — things that we both should know about because they alter the usual rhythm of availability.

My wife doesn’t need to know everything I’m doing while she’s gone at work, but she does need to know if I have an event in the evening.

Who’s cooking and when? Will we get quality time together?

This calendar helps us answer those questions and frame expectations.

We glance at this calendar several times a day, simply because of where it hangs. It is far more useful than reminding yourself to toggle or check shared digital calendars (which often have a ton of irrelevant info).

The fourth and final step is no less necessary unless you want to forget about unfinished tasks and let them pile up. (You don’t.)

4. At the end of each day, review your planner and move incomplete tasks (1) back to the digital to-do lists or (2) forward to the next day in your planner

We don’t always get it all done. But no one wants to track a backlog of tasks by digging back a few weeks into their planner and scanning for that one important thing that didn’t quite get finished.

The end of the day is a time to celebrate your wins, however small, and to reassess when the incomplete can be completed.

If you’re tired and unsure, just plop it back into the digital to-dos. You can revisit it when you’re fresh.

But if you know it has to be tomorrow, throw it on the planner. Now, you’re that much more prepared for the next day.

Optional step: Add a quote that could practically help you from day to day

Mine is this: “All we ever have to do is the next right thing.” It’s my version of an Alcoholics Anonymous maxim.

This concept has helped countless people navigate their overwhelm and take the next step on the journey. And since I get overwhelmed easily, I wanted a quote that takes the pressure off.

I like to step back, remind myself that I don’t have to tackle the whole thing at once, and instead look at the tiniest next step I can take.

What happens next is magical: I find myself taking the next tiny step, and the next, and in no time, I’ve actually made a lot of progress.

Finally, build a relationship with your system

The best of our intentions often go to waste. Perhaps you’ve tried to implement systems, rolled them out, and then lost steam over time, eventually forgetting to use what you built. I get it.

Like any habit, this one requires nurture. But remember that it exists for you.

It does not exist to condemn you. It is a guide.

On those days when you’re just not feeling it, trust in the work you did to put this together and try it anyway.

If it’s not working, lean into why. Call a few friends or a coach and talk it through. Edit. Tweak. Make it fully yours. Change up the color scheme if you have to. Put a little love in it.

Six months later and counting, I have increased my productive output by about two tasks per day. That’s ten tasks per week if I’m not counting the weekend.

As it turns out, focused is fast.

Full transparency: I still haven’t improved my breakfast game. (But if I’m honest, I like to have a few little corners of chaos to call my own.)

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