Name Your Tasks Properly

Scheduling and, more importantly, prioritizing have been one of the themes of coaching discussions this month with many of my clients. These executives expect to have everything done but feel like they’re accomplishing nothing. When I ask them to read off their task list, they either look at me dumbfounded and admit to not even having one or they read off a conglomeration of words that have nothing to do with goals, deliverables, or process.

Consider these questions: Do you have a documented task list, or is it all in your mind?  Have you ever been going over your task list and come to a screeching halt?  Did you stumble over a task because your brain didn’t know what to do with it?  This typically happens because we’re too busy to write out what we mean.  Our brains are on hyperdrive, and we think we can remember what we’re thinking… in 5 minutes from now, or tomorrow, or in the upcoming week.  We are kidding ourselves!    

How, then, can we schedule, prioritize, and take appropriate action?  One way to help ourselves accomplish more of the to-dos so we can work on the more important strategic projects is to properly name our tasks.

I was not very good at naming tasks in the past, and to be honest, I used to have multiple lists of tasks.  When I looked at my task lists – yes, plural – I saw how I named, and therefore managed, my tasks.  The reality was that I couldn’t decipher my own notes for over 50% of the items on the list because the wording was too generic. 

Let’s not worry about the number of tasks, or lists, you typically work with or from.  The focus should be on how you name each task. So here is how – and why – you need to properly name tasks.

Poorly Named Tasks = Avoidance, Fear, or Just Being Lazy

If you see a poorly named task on a list, your brain will either trip over it and then move on, or just skip it all together.

Let’s look at some silly, yet relevant, examples from a recent list.

  • “Camper.” Was this winterize? Clean? Take out for a spin? Even winterize and clean have multiple different possibilities.
  • “Salad.” Make? Eat? Throw out? Throw on the floor?
  • “Watch show on science thing.” Sadly, I didn’t write down which show, or the topic, or the presenter, and I had no idea later.
  • “Garden.” Is this a noun or a verb? Did I need to clean? Plant? Harvest? Fertilize?
  • “Shopping list.” Do I make one? Did I order groceries for delivery?
  • “Blog articles.” There is so much to be done on this one, that I can’t even start to list it all.

Properly Named Task = Good Time Estimate and Excellent Way to Prioritize

If you have properly named a task, and added tasks for subsequent actions, you can understand how long it will take you to complete.

Looking at the list above, I cannot honestly give even a guess as to how long these things would take.

The Structure of Proper Names

Putting together a properly named task isn’t hard. All you have to do is train yourself to do it.

The proper structure is [verb] [noun] [completion state].


Let’s take a look at my mess above.

  • “Camper” was actually a series of tasks: “Winterize camper by removing all food.” (30 minutes) “Wash and store camper linens.” (30 minutes + washing/drying machine cycle time) “Buy antifreeze for camper water lines” (15 minutes) “Put antifreeze in camper water lines.” (30 minutes)
  • “Salad” was about making a big salad that I could take to work all week for lunch: “Make 5 salads for work lunches.” (20 minutes)
  • “Watch show on science thing.” Lesson learned – be more specific when writing down a task.
  • “Garden” was actually “Clean and store tomato cages.” (15 minutes)
  • “Shopping List” was “Make shopping list” (10 minutes) followed by “Order groceries.” (15 minutes)
  • “Blog articles” was too broad. It needed to be “Write article for [date]” (45 minutes) each week.

Action Item

Look at all the tasks on your task list. Are they named properly? Do you know exactly what needs to be done and have a feel for how long it will take?  Do you know what resources will be required to complete each task?  Click here for a simple “Task List Worksheet.”


By properly naming tasks, you can keep your mind from stumbling over them, and get a clear picture of how long a task will take.  In addition to this, understanding the task and subsequent actions and time commitment helps you prioritize your workload, and the workload of your team. 

Ironically, we all believe that we can do this alone.  It’s such a simple thing, you think.  Yet, you fall into the same habits and routines, week after week after week.  And yes, you do get things done, but are you more busy than productive?  Is your team super busy, but bogged down by elusive deliverables? 

Consider how an executive mentor/coach can help you get, and stay, productive.  Let’s chat.


P.S. Do you enjoy reading? Be a Great Manager with These 12 Leadership Books.

P.P. S.  Book a Complimentary Strategy Session so we can get you moving in the right direction; click on my Complimentary Strategy Session calendar link here and let’s book a time together so you can get started today!

P.P.P. S. With over three decades of professional experience in corporate operations and executive human resources, I am a proven results-driven leader. My expertise includes strategy, change management, talent management and organizational development, employee relations, and executive and leadership coaching. I am a highly effective communicator and team leader with demonstrated ability to build long-term relationships across internal and external customer environments built with integrity, confidence, authenticity, and trust.