Making Tasks “Actionable”

“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined” – David Allen

The first thing you need to do before you start studying some “actual” Japanese is to learn really quickly about “actionable” tasks. Everyone’s created and used some kind of to-do list at some point in their life (I assume so, anyways), though most people don’t actually get a lot out of them. Either the list becomes so overwhelming that you just end up throwing it out, or the things you put on your list just aren’t actionable. Here are some of the most basic problems people end up having with to-do lists:

  1. You add everything to your list, which really means you have nothing. Too much is just too overwhelming, and not useful at all.
  2. Your list contains too many generalities. “Study Japanese” is an example of something that is too general.
  3. Goals are too long term. Really, you don’t want to look more than a week or so ahead, otherwise you aren’t focusing on things you could do right now (that will get you closer to said goals).
  4. You spend way too much time working on your list when that time could be spent doing things on your list.

Anyways, you get the picture. All that being said, though, I think to-do lists can be really important, as long as they’re done right. The reason I bring this up now is because hiragana requires you learn a lot of different pieces. When you have a lot of pieces, it’s good to have a way of keeping track of what you need to work on next (in order to get closer to learning hiragana). After you’ve practiced your list building skills with hiragana, you’ll be able to use them on everything else in your life as well (including more Japanese studies!). Let’s take a look at what makes up a “good” to-do list.

  1. Actionable Tasks: Every task on your to-do list should be actionable. This means you can take some kind of physical action upon it, right now. These are tasks that, when you complete them, you’ve (visually/physically/etc) moved closer to whatever your main “general” goal might be. These are not general goals like “learn Japanese.” That’s to-do suicide right there. These have to be things you can actually act upon. To prevent generalities, it’s best to spend a couple of minutes planning before you start something. What’s the next thing you can do (“do” is the important word here) that will get you closer to your goal of learning Japanese? When you come up with ambiguous to-dos, it causes you to freeze and stress out over your to-do items, which means nothing actually gets done. This takes away from your focus and makes it very difficult to do anything. Examples of good actionable tasks include: “be able to read and write the hiragana characters あ, い, う, え, and お consistently in any order.” This is a specific thing you can do, and you know what you need to do to accomplish it.
  2. Stay Short Term: You aren’t a time traveler or psychic. You don’t know what’s going to happen two weeks from now. You do, however, have a somewhat decent idea what’s going to happen today, so plan short term and make adjustments as you go along. As long as your tasks are actionable and working towards a bigger goal, you’ll make it there when you need to. Think about what you can do today, not two weeks from now.
  3. Do Two, Maybe Three Important Things Daily: Be honest, you probably don’t do more than three important things every day. I know I don’t. Everyone has a certain amount of energy to get things done with. Everything you do takes up energy. Try to focus on two or three things to get done per day, not a hundred. If you choose to do a couple things, you’ll get them done (and feel good about it). Then, worst case is that you have more time, and you can add one more thing to your to-do list. Remember, these two or three things are important things (i.e. if you could only do three things today, what would they be?).

Starting on the next page, you’ll begin to learn hiragana pronunciation, and we’ll be using some of these to-do list lessons to help you learn more effectively. We’ll break the fairly big task of learning hiragana up into smaller pieces and help you focus on one part at a time. Consistency is really going to be the key here, though. It’s so much better to study 30 minutes a day than it is to study 8 hours, only on one day. Let’s get started!

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