Productivity science is generally unkind to standard to-do lists. We’re told that they feed the impulses of our faulty brains in all the wrong ways.
They call our attention to tasks that are easy to quantify and thus easy to “complete.” They can allow small chores to feel more pressing and important than they are, making us prioritize those tasks that seem urgent (responding to email), when other, non-urgent projects would offer greater payoff (organizing your thoughts before a strategy meeting).
But we can’t get enough of the little brain-chemical kick that follows every checkmark.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, which makes software for creating online forms. Writing on his company’s blog, he describes multi-item to-do lists as “a race to the bottom, except there is no bottom.”
He suggests an alternative system for getting things done.
If you can see past the bro-ish title, the Hunter Method, as Tank calls it, actually sounds promising, and it’s dead simple. All you do is choose one task that is going to be the focus of your day, even if it doesn’t take you the whole day to complete. You write that item down on a Post-it note, stick it to your laptop (or a wall, we presume) and use it as your lodestar. Look to the note when your mind begins to wander to your waiting text messages, to your dry-cleaning, or to any of the ridiculous things people do when they should be working.
Tank instructs high-achievers to seriously consider that must-do which would have the most impact. “If you’re having trouble thinking of something I’ll give you a hint — it’s usually the thing you least want to do,” he writes. In this way, the Hunter Method is a lot like the popular Mark Twain-inspired hack called ”Eating the frog,” which suggests tackling that thing you’d rather do at the end of the day, at the beginning, instead. With the Hunter Method, however, the frog is never a meaningless errand or tedious office task. It’s a significant, high-impact item, and by getting it done, Tank says, you will feel more fulfilled.
Tank’s method draws from The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (Bard Press, 2003), a best-selling book that likewise advocated for establishing one priority per day, to avoid getting stuck on the to-do list hamster wheel. And like the Kanban method, which limits the number of items you’re actively working on to three at any one time, the Hunter Method puts the lie to the myth of multitasking. As a bonus, it skirts our inability to properly estimate how much time a given task will take.
Early human survival tactics inspired the title of Tank’s method. “If the hunter made a successful hunt for that day, his family would eat. If not, they wouldn’t. It was that simple,” he writes. “He didn’t have time to check email, attend time-sucking meetings or send follow-up emails. And, he certainly didn’t have time to make to-do lists.”