What’s on Your NIT List?

My dad is really into personal productivity.  His major goal is to create the perfect system for getting things done.  In fact, when I came home from Europe he had a whole presentation on the right way to do time management.    A major part of this is to work on small tasks called ‘NITs.’

What’s a NIT?

As I was writing this post, I had to ask my dad where he learned about a NIT.  Unfortunately he couldn’t remember.  He thinks it came from his days in the Army, but he’s not really sure.  When I looked it up on Google, it seems like a nit is a type of head lice.  Anyway for the sake of this post, a NIT is a single action that must be completed.

How is a NIT different from a task?  Well, most tasks are part of a large project.  Here you have to complete a step in order to work on the next one.  With a NIT you only have to do one thing to cross it off your to-do list.

An Example of NITs vs. Tasks

Let’s give an example of both.  Last week, I had a bunch of projects I needed to complete.  One of them was to move into my new apartment.  This is considered a single project because I had a large goal that’s broken down into individual tasks like:

  • Sign the lease
  • Pay the security deposit
  • Call my landlord and pick up the keys
  • Set up the utilities
  • Rent a moving van
  • Move into the apartment
  • Unpack my things
  • Etc, etc.

As you can see these are tasks that are completed in a systematic manner.  This is different from a NIT because this project requires multiple steps instead of single action.

To further illustrate this concept, let me talk about some of the NITs I’ve completed this past week:

  • Uploaded Pat’s Smart Passive Income Podcasts onto my ipod  (Looking forward to these!)
  • Contacted a guy in my niche who is killing it with ezine articles and asked if he’s willing to work with me
  • Transferred notes from to-do list and added them to my list of long term projects
  • RSVP’d my friend’s birthday for Saturday night

Now these are just a few minor chores I’ve had to do this week.  A NIT could also be something major like, “clean out the garage.”  The important thing to remember is its one singular action…not a series of steps like you’d have with a project.

Why YOU Should Create a NIT List

I feel it’s important to have a NIT list (Notice this rhymes with something else) that’s separate from your personal projects.  The reason is simple.  We all have those small annoying chores that take up precious mental energy.  It’s hard to focus on the important “to-do” tasks when your brain is filled with a bunch of stuff that’s not relevant to the project at hand.

With a NIT list you can group all those individual chores and keep them apart from your projects. Then when you have a few minutes of spare time, you can cross off an item from this list.

For instance, the other day I was put on hold for 20 minutes with my electric company.  Even though I couldn’t do any work, I managed to make this time a little productive by downloading Pat’s podcasts and sending a RSVP to that party.

I believe using a NIT list is an excellent way to be a little more productive.  Using this on a regular basis helps you stay focused on the projects that really produce results in your life.  What do you think?

Take Action. Get Results.

31 thoughts on “What’s on Your NIT List?”

  1. Steve You sound like me today. I always think I am too lazy to finish up everything on my list. But these lists never end. Then I think I am spending too much time on the computer for nothing. I mean it is not a job. Or it is not giving me an income I could be proud of.

    So it is useless. Your dad must me my age person, I have lived an extremely busy life from the time I started school about four year old, there is no break.

    So NIT what does it stand for, or it is a complete word by itself. I could not figure out. Let me know. As far a person is organized, and knows his/her responsibilities life goes on.

    Take care

    fran A

    • Fran- I’m not really sure what NIT stands for. It’s something he’s always called it and I guess it kinda stuck. I was trying to think of an acronym:

      N- ?
      I- Individual
      T- Task

      I can’t think of a word that begins with N. I’ve always been horrible with acronyms.

  2. Love the concept but for me, personally….it wouldn’t work for my personality. Methinks I tend to unconsciously do NITs (not to be confused with NOTs) ….but aren’t really aware of them per-se. They’re like breathing to me, I just, well, do them unthinkingly.

    Obviously this is a sign I need a life. 🙂

  3. NIT. Hmm… that’s interesting (I mean that word). I’ve never heard of it before, and I think I am not able to appreciate it completely. Maybe I would if you can throw some more light on it.

    Steve, I think you are confusing the NIT between a chore and a quick task. You mentioned that a NIT could also be something major like, “clean out the garage”
    Well, if you think about a NIT as a chore, then probably that’s true. But if you think about it as one quick task, then I would disagree because cleaning out the garage can involve quite a few steps in itself, wouldn’t you agree?


    • It depends on how you break it down. If you plan to do a garage in stages, it would not be a nit. If you are going to go in and throw a bunch of crap out it is totally a one thing job. Sometimes the definition varies depending on YOUR input.

      On a side note I think all of my comments are being swallowed up by askimet now that I swirtched to Gasp. I left a comment on your site earlier and it vanished, think it is sitting in your spam folder. (along with about 8 other sites 🙁 )

      • Steve, thanks for the clarification. So a NIT is something that can be done in one shot, irrespective of whether it is a chore of not, and also irrespective of the time it may take for the task. Gotcha!

        And thanks for the heads-up about the comments. I fished out two from you! Akismet always seemed to have something against you, and, now that you moved on to Gasp, I think the war just took a different dimension altogether 🙂

  4. Hi Steve,

    Cool concept. And yes it does rhyme with another type of list, a list I’ve found myself on when I’m a naughty person 🙂

    Sometimes “step-by-step” type task lists create anxiety. We focus on finishing the next step – or 5 steps ahead – instead of concentrating on the present step. When you complete a NIT you’re done with it completely. No next step, no process, no one big goal you’re working toward.

    I will keep it in mind for future activities.

    Thanks for sharing and have a powerful day!


  5. Hi Steve

    This is a completely different way of looking at utilising time effectively. I’ll give it a go and see how I make out.

    Although at the moment time is taken up with bigger tasks. Just published my 2nd Guest Post and been invited by another blog owner to do another. Have lists already for the New Year so this may keep me concentrating on what I am doing now. So I then don’t get overwhelmed.

    Thanks for sharing this Steve. Much appreciated.

  6. I’ve always liked completing NITS Steve, though I never thought about naming them. As a typical male I can only think of one thing at a time. If I’ve got too many items filling my head, I try and get rid of all the quick and easy ones. I did a couple today actually, and my head feels a lot clearer, and has some room now for completing the more major tasks. 😉

    Your dad came up with a good concept Steve. 8)


  7. I;m still not clear on what you are calling nits. What relates to me is unrelated tasks that I don’t really want to do but have to do at some time and need to do to avoid other problems, like paying bills, calling Social Security, checking my bank to make sure that the money is in the right place. They don’t take much time; are unrelated to important tasks like getting my blog posts planned and reading. They are easy to postpone. Not very satisfying to complete but absolutely essential to an untroubled life.
    Question for your Dad. Are these the same nits that we pick at?

  8. As someone with young school-age children, I sadly know a thing or two about nits and head lice. A “nit” is the egg that the head louse (“lice” is the plural of “louse”) lays.

    If I’m getting you right, your “nit list” is a todo list that is drilled down to basic action steps, yeah? Hmm, I think I’m happy to call mine a “todo list”. 🙂

    Kind regards,

  9. Hey Guys…Thanks for commenting today. For some reason “CommentLuv” is being a little wacky today. I think I fixed it, but sorry for the lack o’ link love back to your site!

  10. Great post, Steve!

    I’ve never heard of NITs before, but I think you’ve made a really important distinction between them and tasks. Right next to me now is a big dry erase board with two columns of things on it: little things I’ve got to get done today (NITs, I guess!) and some general things for the week that I need to do. I like this post, though, because it’ll better help me categorize the things that I need to do.

    Oh, and I see that you’re rocking Thesis now. Welcome to the dark side 🙂 I’ve been running Thesis on all of my blogs for a couple years now (and will actually be coming out with some premium skins for it pretty soon here) and am pretty familiar with it, so let me know if there’s anything you’ve got questions about.

    And sorry I’ve missed commenting on a few days’ worth of your posts! I’ll try to be better 🙂

  11. @steve/Ralph Yeah, I think the Nit Idea likely is not for everyone. Just thought I would present it as an option. You guys have the basic Idea of it. basically it is tasks that are able to be drilled done to only having one thing done to complete them that can be used as “filler” or however you want and are kept separate from normal task lists which can be expected to have multiple things that need to be done to complete them.

    Solving a specific issue with social security would be a perfect example. But putting in an application from where you might need separate steps such as collecting documentation likely would NOT be a NIT. A nit CAN be something like mowing the lawn, but are often shorter tasks that can be done when you “feel” like it or have a spare moment.

    @everyone else: Besides the commentluv issues I may have messed up some other formatting. I am working on this and what I have up now is not “bad”… but consider there to be some “under construction” signs to be around the site for the time being.

    Keep your head on a swivel and watch for falling girders. Please ignore the wolf whistles from the workers. Thanks for your patience.

  12. Nice concept.

    I keep a separate to-do for NIT stuff, so I’ve been doing this a little differently. On my favorite tool, the notebook, I keep these types of things in their own boxed off area.

    Your Akismet issue, I’ve noticed that whenever I have changed themes or started a new site, it acts a bit weird while it’s figuring things out. Not sure if this is your deal or not but thought I would mention it.

    Thanks for the garage reminder. LOL I committed to cleaning mine out before the new year.

    • Could be, but I have had issues with false positives for a while. I would always get it on a few sites, usually after I logged in from a different location (new IP address), which happened a lot while I was gone. But it always cleared itself up. Once I tried to switch AWAY from Askimet to GASP it went nuts and EVERYWHERE I went sent me to the spam bin. very frustrating. I might be happenstance, but, though I like GASP better I do not want to make the transition if the cost is having my comments get spam binned more frequently.

  13. I actually do this quite often because these little tasks actually help (subconsciously) with your daily tasks – being able to knock down those small things give you little boosts in inspiration but they always add up because you trick yourself into thinking you’re getting a TON of work done.

    Of course, you need to add in a lot of BIG items along with it but breaking things up into those little NITs can create climb up a mountain into a hike up a hill (sorry for being lame haha).

  14. Steve,

    NIT huh! I follow this method a lot as it is great for providing spurts of motivation; even though I didn’t have a term to describe it; But now I do..haha..

    I see you have changed to thesis theme. Great choice even though I personally like headway over thesis.

    Later on..

  15. Hi Steve,

    Very nice post! I haven’t heard of the term NIT before, but I like it. It does help to be more productive especially if we have many things to accomplish in a certain time. Thanks for sharing

  16. Hey Steve,

    Personal productivity is also a big interest of mine. Perhaps its the ex-Army thing? Have you heard of the Getting Things Done (GTD) paradigm by David Allen? He employs some similar concepts to what you discuss.

    One of his key principles is always defining the ‘Next Action’ that needs doing rather than just the overall task. With just an overall task list you still need to think of all the sub-tasks involved which then often leads to de-motivation and distraction when deciding what to do on your list. This has parallels to the NIT concept you describe.

    He also talks about grouping your tasks by ‘context’. For example, group together all your tasks that need a phone to complete. Then when you’re waiting for your bus etc you can pull up your ‘phone’ context list and work through it while your waiting.

    I have started using the GTD time management concept (which includes a number of other principles as well as ‘next action’ and ‘context’ lists) and while it takes a little time to start up and get into I am finding it very effective.

    It won’t be for everyone but I do recommend checking it out.

    • I haven’t heard of the exact name for it; but yes I have heard of the same concept. More training from my old man really. He is VERY particular about organization and time management. I think I am pretty good at it, but he organizes and time manages to an almost crazy degree.

      It could well be an “Army” thing. I know My brother and I were in the Navy and Air Force (respectively) and though we both care about organization and are far better than many neither of us is organized to that degree.

      Anyway though it sounds like I have been schooled on the “basic” ideas of GTD, it does sound intriguing. I will have to check it out.

  17. Hmm, maybe it’s time for me to mess with my organization style and try the NIT list. Unlike many people commenting, I find those tasks distracting. I will often knock out a few in a row just so I don’t have to think about them anymore. However, that’s a dangerous temptation because it can delay me from getting started on the important things!

    • NIT lists aren’t for everyone, but having those tasks on a separate list can work great for many people.

      It is one of those things that if it works, it works great. and if it doesn’t work for ya, people just seem to find it an extra unneeded layer of organization. It is worth giving it (or something similar a shot)

  18. I still can’t figure out what are the differences between a NIT and a project. It seems that cleaning garage example can be broken down further for me. For example, you have to move your tools to a new place, build a new shelves, put the Christmas tree away, for instance. What do you think, Steve?

    • Mike,

      It is likely my fault. I am not sure I explained it clearly enough and I think cleaning the garage may have been a bad example. The point I was trying to make is that a NIT does not have to be a short task….it could be a longer one, as long as it does not take being broken down further.

      My personal “clean the garage” is just going and doing it. It consists of thorw shit out and put stuff on existing shelves. The way you describe it…definietly not a NIT. I do realize that the task could be broken down better…so I gave a poor example.

      Maybe mowing the lawn is a better example (as long as there is gas available…since getting gas cold make this a two step process too)

      ultimately it is a general idea, people can make (or not) make of it what they will from their own views on what constitutes these tasks.

      For some people this will be an awesome tool. For others…just an unneeded layer of organization.

      Hopefully it is a “little” clearer

  19. Steve,

    I have been thinking for days to try to figure out what NIT stood for. Yes, I know there are more important things to concentrate on, but it has driven me crazy.

    I have decided it means Necessary Important Tasks. ha/ha

  20. Hi Steve,

    I do believe that doing your nit list will really help you. Sometimes I am doing it so that my “to do” will not be cluttered of some unimportant and unrelated things. I need to do nit so that I can organize the things I am doing. But honestly, I don’t know that what am I doing have this name “nit” thank you for informing me. Now I can use it very often to do thing correctly and very organize.

Comments are closed.