Crankable widgets

The concept of transforming my tasks into “crankable widgets” helps me Get Things Done.

Imagine what it’s like to work in a factory: You are responsible for your part of the assembly line. The work may not be easy, but you know how to do it. You do it over and over. You are cranking out widgets.

Now think about your real job. It may not be like the factory at all. You create/troubleshoot/analyze things you’ve never created/troubleshooted/analyzed before. Experience helps — Phil Windley calls it “tacit knowledge” — but each particular task may be slightly new to you. Before “cranking” out each task, you must figure out exactly how to do it. Thinking must precede the doing. That’s why you’re called a knowledge worker.

If you find yourself procrastinating a task, it may be that you don’t know (exactly) how to do it. Your task needs more brain time. You must transform your task into a “crankable widget” — something you know exactly how to do.

Answering questions like these can help:

  • How do I do this task?
  • What part of this task is new to me?
  • If I were to watch a movie of myself doing this task, what would I see?
  • If I were to delegate this task to someone else, how would I describe it?

Sometimes a dreaded, procrastinated task becomes easy and even fulfilling after I’ve taken time to think about it.

(Thanks to David Allen and Merlin Mann for teaching me this concept.)

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