Task Darwinism

Survival of the Fittest Task

Effective project teams regularly review tasks to make sure they’re finished. If the tasks are indeed completed, great! If not, then what can we do to maintain healthy task management? Unfortunately, many teams hold on to incomplete tasks letting them pile up over time. These tasks are typically low-impact, low-importance, and first on the chopping block when the workload and new priorities stack up.  

The Problem: Tasks rolling into an ever-growing ball of operational clutter. 

The Solution: Task Darwinism. 

At its core, Task Darwinism has everything to do with evaluating priorities and being honest about what is required. We must be able to support tasks that are truly important and be willing to let go of tasks that are not. Task Darwinism maintains that while the team imposes an initial importance on a task, the true importance of a task reveals itself over time through natural selection.  

When tasks miss their due date, immediately consider: 

  1. Re-assigning the task to another team member. 
  1. Adding support to help start or complete the task. 
  1. Pushing the task out to a more realistic due date. 
  1. Backlogging the task to revisit, re-prioritize, and reschedule it later. 

What action you take is all about priority. In a high-priority situation, either reassign the task or assign additional support.  

It’s not uncommon for a lagging task to be non-essential. If the task pipeline isn’t too clogged, then it is reasonable to push out the task due date to move it further down the task queue.  

If the task load is simply too high, do not be afraid to backlog the task.  

When the current sprint is completed and you need to conduct your retrospective and re-prioritize your backlog, a task that has been down-prioritized will naturally move up in importance if it warrants that kind of attention.  

Ruthlessly backlogging tasks encourages a few good behaviors:  

  1. Frees up your current work cycle.  
  1. No need to carry around an ever-growing list like some sort of Greek punishment.  
  1. Lowers the hurdle of having to tackle an overwhelming wall of tasks.  
  1. Reduces Task Start Paralysis—the fear of starting a task.  
  1. Encourages you to be pickier about what tasks make it on the list.  

With Task Darwinism your task list reflects the things you need to get done. Your ability to get things done is directly related to the time you have to do it—and that time is finite. The task list should reflect that reality. The scarcity of time forces a carefully selected list and separates the could or should-haves from the must-haves. 

You may be thinking that there will still be too many “important” things that won’t get done. If you are backlogging too many tasks that are crucial or moving the due dates on too many key tasks, this reveals another important truth: You are understaffed. This is precisely the early warning sign you need to prevent team burnout. You can now act to re-evaluate, pivot, and prevent a collapse.  

This approach is uncomfortable at first, but if you apply it with confidence, you can have a more fit throughput. And remember, if a task that you personally believe is important isn’t making it to the top of the queue, it’s not personal. It’s Task Darwinism.  

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