Task Completion Bias

Posted on: March 9th, 2020 by Katie Draves | No Comments


Studies show that the majority of us tend to have a tendency to do triage on our growing lists of tasks by checking the easiest items off the list first. Researchers call this “task completion bias.” Our tendency to be motivated to check the easiest items off the list first is driven by our need to feel a sense of accomplishment.


What’s wrong with checking things off our “To-do” list, you might ask? Well, unfortunately, prioritization rarely is factored in when we default to checking these “easy” items off our lists. Rather than focus on our top priority projects, we tend to go for the easy win, leaving those more challenging top priority tasks on the back burner- exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. The short-term result of checking the easiest tasks off your list first is a bump in confidence and feelings of accomplishment; however, the long-term effects, when tracked over time, is that individuals who perform with task completion bias tend to be significantly less productive.


So, what to do when you find yourself defaulting to the easiest tasks on your list? The first step is to recognize this tendency. Derail your habit by prioritizing the most critical tasks on your list and schedule a time to work on those items first. If you need an easy win, go ahead and tackle one simple task, check it off your list for the confidence boost, but then direct your attention back to your top priority project. You’ll find that your day is far more productive if you limit the easy tasks you allow yourself to check off your list each day. Otherwise, you’ll be in danger of finding yourself at the end of the day with very little to show for it despite being busy. Stay busy with the high priority projects – and see your productivity and success soar. Big wins trump little wins; make sure your productivity is measured by progress on the top priority projects, not allowing yourself to get lost in the weedy patch of mini-tasks that distract you.


For example, most of us would not view the execution of a performance review as an “easy” task. Make sure that you don’t lose sight of the deadlines on the upcoming performance reviews for your team. These meetings are priority projects to your team members who crave feedback on how they’re doing. Take control of your task completion bias and take charge of your “To-do” list today!


(Adapted from an article in the November-December 2017 Harvard Business Review, entitled, “ Productivity Stop Checking Off Easy To-Dos”)


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