Managing your time effectively relies on habits. It may take time, but everyone can be productive. It’s just a matter of getting used to the habits that can have the most impact on your life.
The three habits that follow may seem obvious for a productive person, but they’re not, both because they’re based on psychological mechanics and because anybody can easily get distracted and skip them.
The first two are popular and common to most time management systems, the first of which is Getting Things Done. The third is not, and it’s what will make the deal.
This sounds trivial, I know. Yet, learning the right approach to it may take time.
Who wants to be organized may tend to spend a lot of time exactly to… be organized. Lists, calendars, notes, optimization, decluttering, and so on. So, sometimes, we may tend to prioritize a clean plan before starting to act.
But things accumulate, and anything postponed has an increased cost. Postponing is a tool, but it should be intentional and not exaggerated.
So, whenever the task at hand is quickly actionable, just do it.
It may not be the right time, or it may need some analysis, or some reason makes it not immediately doable. In that case, it’s okay to just skip to habit number two. But don’t use procrastination too lightly. Sooner or later, things have to be done, and perfection may not be required. Try to learn to get rid of quick tasks immediately and all of your organization will be relieved.
On the other side, do not try to force tasks into “quickly actionable.” If you’re already a hyper-productive person, you may be inclined to dive into tasks, wanting them to be quick when they shouldn’t be. Some tasks may need more time than expected, or it may be the wrong time for you or someone else.
Write it down
When a task pops up, and it’s not immediately actionable, resist the temptation of “remembering” and to skip to the next one. The feeling of being productive will pay a toll on the accumulation of things to remember.
Your mind needs to be freed of the need to remember tasks and you need a reliable system to avoid forgetting. If writing down is not a habit, letting you trust your system, your mind will continue not to be free to completely focus on the present task, not getting distracted by what’s next.
Of course, you’ll have to daily and periodically review your lists. You’ll be able to have an overview of your work and to select the next steps knowingly. You’ll have to prioritize and this can be better done when you have collected all of your tasks in advance.
Use paper, software, whatever, but things have to go in that bucket first. Then you can pick from it.
Large slots to what matters most
Some things add more value to your life or work than others. And you shouldn’t let these things be buried or continuously interrupted by small tasks, unless it’s necessary. You may tell yourself that you don’t have time, but sooner or later you’ll get a big reminder and it won’t be fun.
What matters needs to be prioritized. And it’s not just a matter of time or daily effort. It’s a matter of mindset and commitment. When something matters for you, it’s likely to need the best of your energies and non-trivial effort. So, you can’t box it tightly or you’ll get a cheap version of it, at best.
You can, of course, have your tricks to deal with your major tasks and get the most out of the time dedicated to them. You’ll have to avoid distractions, reserve time in advance (possibly in the morning), speed up some aspects, warn people, and so on, but when you deal with what matters to you either you dedicate to it enough time and your best energies, or you’ll rush it. And you don’t want to fail exactly what matters most.
Some things need to be approached in an “express” way, others need our total and patient attention. Care too much about “easy” tasks and you’ll lose time and opportunities. Care too little about what matters, and you risk everything.