task completion bias

Next is often not the same as most important. Yet when we are stressed or tired or when the work starts to pile up, instead of prioritizing by some trade-off between important and urgent, we often start checking off the “easy to do’s”. Doing quick-to-finish tasks, even if they are unimportant, gives us a sense of accomplishment, a (false?) sense of progress. Psychologists call this Task Completion Bias and when it comes at the expense of the completion of more vital tasks, it is leading us astray.

Not I, you say? I am an intelligent person, highly self-aware; never I! Perhaps. BUT a 2-year study* of 90,000 patients in hospital emergency rooms showed that as workload increased, some doctors tended to select easiest cases next instead of using severity and length of wait time as criteria.

Closing Quote:

“Completing tasks leads individuals to feel good…however workers who exhibit TCB (Task Completion Bias) tend to be significantly less productive.”

* “Task Selection and Workload: A Focus on Completing Easy Tasks Hurts Long Term Performance” by Diwas S. KC et al (working paper) as reported on p.24 of Nov/Dec 2017 Harvard Business Review (Productivity: Stop Checking Off Easy-to-Dos)

As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier