Thursday, October 27, 2020

Taking Control of Your Time

Here's a technique for dealing with the distraction of a horrendous to-do list, based on an idea from The Joy of Laziness: Why Life Is Better Slower — and How to Get There by Peter Axt and Michaela Axt-Gadermann.

Start by writing down all the tasks you have to get done, if you haven't done so already.

Take three marker pens: one red, one blue and one green. Mark each task according to this code:
  • Red means "must be done right away — now or sooner."

  • Blue means "really needs to be done today — tomorrow at the very latest."

  • Green means "can be postponed at least two days, maybe longer."

For all you workaholics let me stop you right there — just in case you've marked nearly every item on the list in red or blue. You have to take this exercise seriously, which means setting aside the "everything has to be done yesterday" BS and creating real priorities.

If you have fifty items on your list, no more than three should be marked with red and maybe six or seven in blue. You do the math to adjust this to whatever length of list you have (it's five percent and fifteen percent). Many people — maybe most — will have no red items. It's not true that we're all weighed down with tasks so urgent they can't wait 24 hours. That's just our love of drama and the sneaky wish to feel important. Let them go.

When you've got your list into some sensible ratio between the colors, start work on any red tasks — however awful, boring or frightening they are. The trick to keeping calm and balanced is simple: forget about all the complex planning. Work out what truly needs to be done next and do it. When it's done, repeat the procedure.

When you've done all the red items, start on the blue. Don't even think about any green ones until all the reds and blues are done. If any new tasks arrive, give them a color and put them on the list. Next morning, make a new list and reallocate the tasks into the colors.

So far, so good. But this technique has a second step.

After one week, take 15 minutes to go through the green items.
  • Cross all those that have solved themselves off the list. Do the same for those that you can now see were never important anyway. You'll be amazed how many there are.

  • Underline those you can remove by:

    • delegating them.

    • using technology, rather than your time and attention.

    • creating a routine for handling them so you can delegate or pass them to someone else.

  • Make a red item to deal with them right away by whatever means is appropriate.

Start your list again and revisit the green items in another week. Do the same weeding, only this time also remove any green items that have been on the list for more than seven days. If you haven't either done them or moved them into blue or red in that time, forget about them. They aren't going to get done, however long they stay on your to-do list.

If you stick to this set of actions, I guarantee that you'll get an amazing amount of work done; you'll always be focused on what's genuinely important and your to-do list will be a real one, not a resting place for failed intentions.

Try it.

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Lucy MacDonald said...

I love the three marker idea! So clever and so simple. It forces you to prioritize. Your step two helps us realize that some of our to-do list can be delegated or simply not done at all! Thanks for the great time management post!

7:37 PM  

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