No task is trivial

You know how it goes. Things look simple enough. You know what needs to be done. “We’ll have this done in half an hour, tops”.

Suddenly, it’s hours later. And you’re left wondering what the hell happened.

When you think it through, it’s often a ‘one-off’ reason. Unexpected complications. An interruption. Dependencies between tasks. Or just more to it than you anticipated. Whatever the specific explanation, that simple task somehow turned into something much larger.

“No task is trivial”, said a friend of mine, when asked what he’d learned on a recent project.

His words stuck with me.

They express so simply and yet so powerfully a truth that, sooner or later, we all come to learn. Tasks almost always take longer or cost more than you expect.

Eventually, if your mind is open to such things, you start allowing for it in your estimates. “But surely it can’t take that long”, people will say. But inevitably it does.

What can you do about this unfortunate state of affairs? Is there a way to escape this apparently universal law of non-triviality?

Efficiency alone is not the answer. You can’t “time-manage”, “process-optimize” or otherwise “buzzword” your way out of this trap.

Effectiveness is what counts. Establish clear priorities. Focus your efforts. Say no to stuff.

If you don’t say no to low-priority tasks, then no matter how trivial they seem, they’ll inevitably end up costing you more than you expected. It is only by not starting them that you will have enough time to do the few important tasks that really make a difference.

Remember, no task is trivial. So choose carefully…