How to Complete a task without rushing…or totally forgetting – Pick Dave’s Brain

This week’s question comes from Samuel in Manchester in the UK.

Q: I’m a recent Time Management Fundamentals graduate with two questions about processing your inbox. First, what if I try to do a task and then I find out I couldn’t do it in five minutes or less? Second, what if I have a large project that has, obviously, many steps to completion?

Click to tweet this: Instead of playing “telephone” with your day, schedule unfinished tasks and get clearer reception. @DaveCrenshaw

Video transcript:

What should I do if Samuel doesn’t return my phone call? I’m Dave Crenshaw, and it’s time to Pick Dave’s Brain!

This week’s question comes from Samuel in Manchester in the UK.


Hi, Dave. My name is Samuel. I’m a recent TMF [Time Management Fundamentals] graduate and just two quick questions regarding the course. What if I have a task which is five minutes or less, which I obviously did during inbox processing time? There was a friend who called and the friend who called didn’t get answered. So the task hasn’t been completed. Where does that task now get put?

The second question is if I have a task that has multiple steps and I can only schedule one step at a time. Where do I leave that task once the first has been scheduled, in order to remind me to schedule the second step?

Thanks ever so much!

Dave Crenshaw:

Thanks for the interesting question, Samuel, and you are right, there are really two different questions here. The funny thing is—the answer to both of the questions is essentially the same: put it back into an approved gathering point.

Let’s say that I am processing an item. I determined that the next step is I am going to call you, and I am going to do it right then. So I call you and then I have to leave a voicemail message. Now it’s unprocessed, right?

I am going to put it sort of theoretically, back into the top of the inbox and then reprocess it. I had to leave you a voicemail message, so the next step is I am going to have to wait for you to return that call and “waiting for” is a type of action.

When will it be done? I am going to look into my calendar—a day or two ahead, and I am going to say, “I am waiting for Samuel to return my call.”

Finally, where is its home? Well, now it’s resolved. It’s processed into the future. So I can either archive that email or throw away the note that I made to myself. In this way, I make sure that I never lose the thread of something that is unresolved.

Now let’s go to your second question, which is what if I have a project, something that’s going to take lots and lots of steps that aren’t necessarily dependent upon each other?

In this case, I am going to schedule a time to work on the project in advance. I’ve been dealing with this a lot recently because I’ve been working on my fourth book, which will come out in September. And I’ve had to schedule a hundred hours or more into my schedule.

I asked myself first the question, “When is the latest date by which this can get done?” and then created chunks of time to work on just that project. In that way, when the time arrives I just start from wherever the next step is, even if I wasn’t a hundred percent clear with it when I processed it initially.

Now, what if they’re all independent? What if I have got a project that’s got multiple, different types of steps and they’re not dependent on each other?

In that case, I find most people recognize that there’s more to be done when they’re working on it, right? They complete the first step of the task. They complete the report, and then they go “There’s more to be done.” And then they should put that back into the gathering point.

If you’re concerned that you might forget that or miss the next step, then you could create a reminder for yourself, say—every week, to ask yourself “What is the next step in project XYZ?” That way, you make sure that you continually move it forward.

Great question, challenging question. Thank you, Samuel.

And if you’ve got a challenging question you want to ask me, all you need to do is click on the button at the bottom of this video. Or go to

And I’ll be there to answer your challenging question!

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