If you want something done, clarify the outcome and action

28th June 2020 at 3:39am


  • Clarify to reduce risk because if you leave things unclear you're UNlikely to get what you want.
  • Clarify to get unstuck because ambiguity is a major driver of procrastination.


  • When planning.
  • When stuck.


1) Clarify the desired outcome.

2) Clarify the (next) action necessary to make it happen.


Start by asking And what would you like to have happen?

Direct Outcome:

Focus on what you can control* now.

*influence with a high-enough probability

Ask questions until you have a small number of easy to check yes/no bullet points which are currently false and will become true when this item is done. In the Agile community we usually call them "acceptance criteria".

Useful questions to ask here:

  • What kind of ...?
  • Is there anything else about ...?
  • How will we know this is done?
  • What will we see or hear when this is done?

Make the title of the item a concrete and meaningful promise.

Make the promise concrete-enough to be doable and meaningful-enough for someone to care. Even if it's only you.

If no one cares, don't do it.


  • Bad: "Digital Garden" What about it?
  • Better: "A Digital Garden is available on my website"
  • Even more concrete: "A Digital Garden is available on michalparkola.com. It is exported as a static site from TiddlyWiki and contains at least one Evergreen Note."

Indirect Outcome

The direct outcome is probably not the end of the story, so mention (or link to) the bigger purpose this item is supposed to contribute to. Describe it in terms your stakholders understand and care about.

Be brief.

Useful questions to ask here:

  • So what?
  • Who cares?
  • Why do they care?

A more gentle way to probe at the purpose:

  • And when (our direct outcome), what will happen then?

When following the chain of intended consequences, stop at the boundary of predictability (time) and reach (what you can control).

Don't get lost in the fog. When in doubt take some concrete steps and re-evaluate.


"I intend for the Digital Garden on my website to help unblock my writing, so that I can publish all the stuff that has been stewing in my head for the last several years. It's purpose is to collect LEGO blocks of ideas optimized for my thinking, from which I can later build articles optimized for other people. It might attract like-minded collaborators. As a durable asset it might have other long-term benefits."


Clarify who will do what, when?

Mise-en-place: Immediately put the result somewhere where it will be found by the right person at the the right time (e.g. your calendar, your trusted todo list, your team's Trello board, etc.).