I talked yesterday about tracking your time and why it’s important–because you can’t improve what you can’t measure.
But it’s not obvious that the converse is true: If you can measure it, does that mean you can improve it?
I think so. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the last year and a half, although I sometimes backslide.
First let me say that I laughed at Mark’s comment about spending the whole day doing time management. I think there are some people who would cheerfully spend the whole day mucking with spreadsheets to plan their day. Not me. I spend 5 minutes every night mapping out what I want to get done the next day. Then I try hard the next day to do it. However, some days have their little crises (like yesterday and today, when I had a truly urgent task that needed doing RIGHT NOW).
Which reminds me of a comment Peg made about the Urgent crowding out the Important. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
My friend Marcia Ramsland is an organizing professional. She got me interested in internet marketing a few years ago and in selling my expertise on the internet. Marcia’s expertise is in organizing. She’s written three books on the subject, and she was in my critique group back in San Diego when she first started writing them. One of the things I learned from Marcia is that we should distinguish between “Tasks” and “Projects”.
A Task is something that you can start and finish in one sitting. It may take 2 minutes or it might take 4 hours, but you can get it all done in one go. Some examples are:
1) Washing, drying, and folding the laundry.
2) Writing the next scene of my book.
3) Going to see my accountant for the monthly accounting.
4) Painting the cat.
A Project is something that is going to take multiple days to get done. It may take a week or it may take 5 years, but it’s something where I’m going to have to break it up into chunks. Some examples are:
1) Remodeling the kitchen.
2) Doing research with my daughter as she gets ready to apply to universities next year.
3) Writing my next book.
4) Creating a new product to sell on my web site.
It should be obvious that the Tasks are the type of thing Peg was talking about when she talked about the “Urgent,” whereas the Projects are what she meant by the “Important.” Tasks typically are small jobs that need to get done “soon” and are therefore Urgent, whereas Projects are the things we really WANT to get done, but they’re so big we put them off because we prefer to get one whole Task done rather than 1% of a Project.
The trick is to turn pieces of Projects into Tasks. You’ll notice that Task #2 on my list is actually a small piece of Project #3. Writing a scene is maybe 1% or possibly 2% of writing a book. There’s no freakin’ way to write a whole book in one sitting, but it’s quite doable to write one scene in that time span. So the secret to getting important Projects done is to shave off slices of them as Tasks, and then mix them in with all those pesky urgent Tasks. So the urgent stuff gets done, but so does something important.
So when I’m making a To Do List for tomorrow, I try to put in a reasonable mix of Tasks and (small pieces of) Projects. And I also put in one thing that’s Fun. The Fun can be either a Task or a piece of a Project, but it needs to be something that’s truly fun. Some examples of Fun:
1) Watch a movie.
2) Have a cookout with the family down in the firepit by our pond.
3) Read a few chapters in a novel.
4) Work on Fun Project X. (This is a secret project right now, but it really exists, and I hope to reveal it to the world in a month or two. And it’s fun.)
I promised yesterday to tell my secret for ensuring that most days are “good days.” I’ll do that here. On any given day, I schedule myself to do a certain number of Tasks (either urgent Tasks or small chunks of an important Project), plus at least one Fun Task. A “good day” is when I get most of the Tasks done and I have some Fun.
Today, I had four Tasks to do, plus I had some Fun planned. I got three of the Tasks done, but switched one Fun thing for another. (I was planning to work on Project X, but we went down to the firepit and had a cookout instead.) So today was a “good day.” It didn’t go exactly as planned, and I didn’t get one of my Tasks done (catching up on email), but three out of four isn’t bad. And I had some Fun.
I’ll talk more tomorrow about why Fun is important. And I’ll talk about pacing and what I call the “80% solution”. See ya then!