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Tag Archives: daily plan

I’ve been writing a post every day, just a quick note on my work habits and what thought patterns or external conditions are affecting them (you haven’t seen them because they’re marked “Private”).  It’s helping me to recognize what helps me focus (a good night’s sleep) and what throws me off the rails (having to make a tough decision).  I’m finding it helpful.

Here’s today’s nugget of wisdom.  A few minutes of down time really helps me to re-focus.

I often find myself staring at the screen, sleepily wondering what I should be working on.  I semi-consciously scroll through my inbox or gaze at my old to-do list, half the items crossed off, unable to make a decision.  Without a clear sense of priority, I too often just start goofing off instead of working.

Contrast that with today: on my way back from a morning meeting, I turned off the radio and just let my mind wander (that part of my mind which wasn’t engaged in driving!).  Pretty soon I was thinking about what else I wanted to accomplish today when i got back to the office.  I was remembering things that I want to get done, mentally prioritizing them, and even started to work on one of them in my head!  When I got home, I quickly scribbled out a prioritized to-do list and dove into work on it.

I should take some time every day to do nothing.  Not a web-comic break,  but really to do nothing.  A ten-minute walk, or a sit in the back yard to listen to the birds.  Followed by a bit of thought on what else I want to accomplish that day.

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First of all, TRO is working really well for me.  It’s not that this system is magically better than everything else I’ve tried.  The difference is in what I’m doing now that I wasn’t doing before: consistent daily and weekly reviews of my tasks and priorities.

Second: Here are a few of the most important ideas about personal productivity that I’ve discovered lately, neatly summarized in one short article:
HBR – The Magic Of Doing One Thing At A Time

  • Focus is powerful.  We can accomplish more, and more creatively, when we focus on one thing without distraction for a decent period of time.
  • Breaks are important.  After a period of focused effort, take a break to renew yourself before plunging in again.  You’ll actually be more productive in the long run than if you didn’t take breaks at all.
  • Work on your most important project first thing in the morning.  “You’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of creative energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.”
  • Set aside time to think long-term and strategically, on a regular basis.

Good advice.

-J

I don’t believe it for a second.  Procrastination is a self-management problem, not a time-management problem.  And yet… when you’re feeling organized and on top of your responsibilities, you don’t experience that stress that can trigger a serious bout of goofing off.  Lately I’ve been exploring the intersection of Good Work Habits and Task Management.

TRO

A friend of mine introduced me to a GTD hybrid called TRO: “Totally Relaxed Organization.”  Like GTD, you write down all your to-do’s in one list.  Tasks are organized into “Projects.”  The idea is that, at any one time, you might have five to ten “Active” Projects, that is Projects that you’re currently working on.  The rubber really hits the road in the weekly and daily reviews.  

In your weekly review, you look at all your Active Projects, and you tag the next one or two Tasks in each one as being “Next Tasks.”  Sort all these Next Tasks into one list: this is your weekly plan, what you plan to accomplish over the next week.  Look over this list, as well as your calendar for the week, and make sure it’s realistic.  Iterate if necessary.  Elapsed time: ten minutes.

Now for the daily reviews: every day, you go through your weekly plan and pick two to four Tasks to accomplish that day: ideally your top priorities.   This is your daily plan.  Again, look at this list and your calendar together and make sure the plan is realistic.  Done!  Elapsed time: five minutes.  Now you can focus on just the Tasks in your daily plan, comfortable in the knowledge that all your other to-do’s are in the system and awaiting their turn, not forgotten.

There’s more to it, but this is the heart of the system (and really, all that I’ve implemented so far).  (The numbers of tasks in the examples above scale up or down, obviously, depending on duration.  You could have dozens of 5-minute tasks in one daily plan, or just one whopper.)

All this tagging and list-making is greatly simplified with the right software app (although some people do it successfully on paper).  The software suite called Things is purpose-built to facilitate the TRO method, and it’s very user-friendly.  Unfortunately for me, it’s a Mac-only app (and I’m… not).  But I’ve managed to implement TRO in Toodledo, a free web-based task management system.

So far it’s working for me.  After spending a day setting up the system, my reviews have quickly gotten down to about five minutes each day.  I have a short list of my top priority tasks, while the rest of my to-do’s are out of sight but not forgotten.  The system is helping me to identify and focus on my top priority of the moment (the essential procrastination-beating work habit).  It’s even helping with motivation: finishing a concise daily plan is a short enough goal that I’m motivated to get down to work and try to finish it before the end of the day.

Planning Is Time Well Spent

Here’s a related blog post, forwarded by that same friend:

MacSparkey: Task Management When the Bullets are Flying

“Generally, when things get nuts, I’m tempted to shut out everything else and just get to work. It is very tempting to ignore my task management system entirely and start pounding rocks. With this latest influx of work, I’ve tried a different strategy. I’m trying to manage my tasks at the same time that I’m overwhelmingly busy. It is working for me. While it now seems obvious, it was initially hard for me to justify spending any time on task management with bullets flying around me. So here are two ways to pull this off…”

-J

I’m going to shamelessly re-post one of the comments from that article I cited in my previous post.  This respondent points out that any system will only work if it’s part of a right-thinking approach to work.

This might just be the best summary of anti-procrastination behaviour ever:

First, it is crucial to understand that [this method assumes] that you want to organize your non-committed time, that is: time which is not fixed in appointments, meetings etc.

Second, if you are a person who seeks the “best” way to organize tasks: don’t do it! You will spend most of your productive time sorting lists, finding software for your lists, choosing Moleskins and pens etc.

Ultimately, you need these things:

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Here are a few tricks and strategies that are working for me right now:

  1. In the morning I write down what I am going to accomplish that day.  I try to plan an amount of work that I should be able to finish by about 3pm.  I also write down something FUN to do when I’m finished.
    • This incents me to get the work done and to not waste time on the internet.
    • I usually chose two different project per day; keeps me from getting too bored.
    • Even though 9-3 is not a full work day, I’m getting more done than when I planned to work all day and then wasted half of it goofing off.
  2. I’m using a timer to:
    • keep myself on task while I’m working (the value of focus) – 30mins is about right.
    • remind myself to take breaks away from the computer (keeps me alert, recharges creativity, prevents headaches).
    • limit the length of my email/surfing breaks.
  3. I’m closing my email apps when I’m supposed to be working.

 

Another big win is that I seem to have gotten a handle on my chronic headaches.  Stretching, exercise and back-pain meds weren’t working anymore, so I went to see my massage therapist again (I’d stopped because it’s expensive).  Oh my goodness, what a difference!  A massage doesn’t just cure the headache, it has some lasting effect on the neck and shoulder muscles that were causing it.  It has now been a week with no headaches – and I aim to keep it that way, so I’m keeping up with the physio exercises and stretching.

It’s hard to stop procrastinating when you feel like shit.  This has been a big boost for my productivity.

Next up: I need to pare down the list of social media sites and web comics that I’m checking daily.  I’m even thinking about moving all my personal documents and bookmarks to another computer to make it harder to play with them during the work day.

Cheers,

-J