Monday, April 20, 2015

How To Get Things Done

Last week (actually, Tuesday), I started with a list of some 18 things that I wanted to get done. I then proceeded to gradually complete these things, and thus to cross them off the list, until yesterday I crossed off the last two. Which was rather efficient, really. (It's worth noting that four of those 'things' were episodes of "24: Live Another Day" that I wanted to watch, so they weren't exactly ordeals!)

Given that I follow a distinct pattern in allocating my time, I figured it would be worth laying out just how I go about getting things done. It's worth noting, of course, that this is what works for me, and may well not work for anyone else.

Step One: Compose the List

I started the week by assembling the list of things I wanted to get done:

  • The aforementioned 4 episodes of "24: Live Another Day"
  • 2 books to finish off
  • 5 rooms to dust and hoover
  • 4 bits of cooking (2 freezer meals to restock and 2 experimental cookeries)
  • Season my bagpipes ready for competition
  • Re-hang the living room door
  • One other thing that I've now forgotten

There are three important considerations here:

Firstly, although it may seem odd to include 'reading' and 'watching 24' on the list given that these are leisure activities and therefore enjoyable, the reality is that by setting the list I'm blocking off time, and if I don't block off time for something it therefore means it won't get done. I wanted to get those done, so I made sure to include them.

Next up, it's important to keep the list fairly varied. If it's a never-ending stream of awful things, or even worse the same awful things, it will quickly fall by the wayside.

Finally, it's important to be realistic about how much can be achieved in the available time, and also how much effort you're actually willing to put into in a block. If you schedule too much in too little time, you'll just get overwhelmed and not achieve anything. And if you have a week and are willing to invest 20 minutes a day in studying, there's no point in blocking off 3 hours of study-time - you'll just waste much of it in goofing around. (This was important with the 'reading' entries actually, since most of the reading in one of the books was pretty tedious, such that I could only face 20 pages per day. Since I had 110 pages in that book to read, it was doable, but only just.)

Step Two: Divide Up the Tasks

Having established a list of 18 items for 6 days, I then divided up the tasks so that I was set to complete 3 a day.

Again, there are some rules to apply:

If there's a big task that must be completed in stages (such as fixing the door or reading those books), it is the completion that should be scheduled. Be sure to set that far enough away that all the sub-steps can be done in the interim!

The tasks for each day need to themselves be varied. It would have been really easy to watch three episodes of "24" on the first day, tick that off the list, and just mess around for the rest of that day, but it would have made the other days that much harder. Better to allocate these to one a day.

Perhaps most difficult of all, though: assign the "big rocks" first. This can either mean allocating the most difficult or time-consuming tasks to their days before anything else, or it could mean allocating those things that must be done before anything else. (That doesn't mean that they need to be done before anything else, just that they need to be placed before anything else.)

Step Three: Assign Sub-tasks

Three of my entries had distinct sub-tasks that needed to be done before the task as a whole could be completed. Specifically, one of the books was divided into 20-page segments for reading, the other was divided into 106-page segments; and the door hanging task required first that the door be removed, then the wood around the hinge repaired and holes re-drilled, and then the door needed to be put back.

(You could argue that "clean 5 rooms" is a single task with 5 sub-tasks, rather than 5 individual tasks. It doesn't actually matter all that much.)

Once any big tasks are sub-divided, the sub-tasks should also be allocated to the days as required. Obviously, sub-tasks need to be completed before the overall tasks can be considered 'done', and there may of course be some constraints on when things can be tackled.

Step Four: Actually Do It

Once the plan is assembled (or even when it's partially assembled), the key step is to actually carry it through. What I did here was to ensure that I did all the required sub-tasks on the days allocated, and then ensured that I completed at least the three tasks allocated for that day. As it happened, on both Thursday and Friday I completed four tasks, thus significantly freeing up time for the weekend.

If You Fall Behind

There are two important things to do if and when you should fall behind on the schedule you've set yourself:

Firstly, don't beat yourself up about it. There's no value in that. Besides, falling behind probably means that you were either over-ambitious in setting a schedule or you hit on something that was more important or more enjoyable. Either way, it happens - the key is to adapt accordingly.

That said, as soon as you fall behind, it's important to accept that you're unlikely to catch up again. After all, there's a reason you're behind, and that reason probably hasn't changed.

So, at this point you should immediately drop some things from the goal list. In particular, anything that doesn't have to be done should be dropped in favour of those tasks, and especially sub-tasks, that must be done. (Of course, if any tasks have now become outright impossible then those should be easy sacrifices. If you have one day and need to wait two days before applying a second coat of paint, then you can't apply that second coat in time.)

So, What the Week Looked Like

By way of an example, here's how I split up the eighteen tasks for last week. The asterisks indicate the completion of one of the tasks rather than a sub-task.

  • Tuesday: "24" episode 1*, Cook lamb rogan josh*, the "forgotten" task*, Read 106 pages of book 1, Read 20 pages of book 2, Remove living room door
  • Wednesday: "24" episode 2*, Cook bolognese sauce*, Season bagpipes*, Dust first room*, Read 106 pages of book 1, Read 20 pages of book 2
  • Thursday: "24" episode 3*, Cook duck with pancakes*, Dust second* and third* rooms, Read 106 pages of book 1, Read 20 pages of book 2
  • Friday: "24" episode 4*, Re-hang living room door*, Dust fourth* and fifth* rooms, Read 106 pages of book 1, Read 20 pages of book 2
  • Saturday:Cook mojito genoese*, Read 106 pages of book 1, Read 20 pages of book 2
  • Sunday: Finish books 1* and 2*

So, a rather long and tedious post, but hopefully it might prove useful!

This Week's Mug: This week's mug is a simply white one, marked with a quote from Shakespeare: "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit" (Twelth Night). It's a rather nice mug that LC got for me on one of her trips Down South. I like it!

#17: "D&D: Player's Handbook", by Wizards of the Coast
#18: "Magician's End", by Raymond E. Feist

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