Please Stop Deluding Yourself About Time.
David Sparks of the MacSparky blog wrote a great post last week about why many people comment about the failings of his “hyper-scheduling” method and it got me thinking about why so many people struggle with their time management.
Hyper-scheduling (or block-scheduling, as it is sometimes known) is where you create blocks on your calendar for doing different types of work. You block out all your calendar including your rest times. It’s a form of extreme time blocking that, when done correctly, works very well.
The problem for most people is they delude themselves with the amount of work they think they can get done each day. They have a very important presentation to prepare and allocate a two-hour block to complete the presentation. They then find they need four hours to complete the presentation, not two and declare time blocking (or hyper-scheduling) doesn’t work.
I see the same thing when people say they cannot get a to-do list to work. When I ask why I discover they have twenty to thirty things on their list to do in a day and fail to complete all their tasks. They then declare to-do lists don’t work for them!
That’s like buying a Lamborghini and complaining it doesn’t go very fast after you attach it to a three-ton trailer! Of course, it isn’t going to go very fast.
For any time management practice to work, it is important to be realistic about what you can do. There is a huge gap between what we would like to do and what we have time to do. Learning where the balance is is part of the journey of improving your productivity and your time management.
If you were to adopt my 2+8 Prioritisation method for planning your days, you would have ten tasks on your to-do list every day. If you were to complete those ten tasks each day you would be completing seventy meaningful tasks each week. That’s a lot of tasks. That’s a way to teach yourself to be realistic.
The days where our work time and scope were easily defined have long gone. Jobs, where we had one task to perform multiple times within a given period of time, are now done by robots and machines. Instead, we now perform work that does not have clearly defined scope and is not easily packaged within convenient time slots. It is now our responsibility to estimate how long something will take to do. We do that based on our experience — because we have prepared a fifty-minute presentation before, we can estimate how long it will take to create another fifty-minute presentation.
Another area I see delusion is in the way work in being described. If I have ten tasks to complete today, that seems reasonable. However, if some of those ten tasks were things like write book, move house, get a new job etc, then you will fail. These types of tasks are not going to be completed in one day. These types of tasks need breaking down into manageable blocks. If you had tasks such as: begin writing book, pack up my clothes and apply for five jobs today, then it is likely you would complete those tasks.
When building a to-do list for the day you need to take into account all the tasks on the list. If you find you have three tasks to be completed in your office, two tasks to be done at the other end of town and five tasks to be completed in another city you are pushing up against the realms of geographical and time possibility. You need to step back and reassess your list. Perhaps group tasks for that week so you can perform tasks that need to be completed in certain places together and schedule them out over a week rather the course of a day.
The final part of creating effective to-do lists is to allow for interruptions and distractions. No matter how much you hope you will not be interrupted or distracted from your work, you will be. That’s just a twenty-first-century life. It would be incredibly difficult (and practically impossible) to find a place where you would not be interrupted or distracted. WIFI, LTE etc is everywhere and even if you tried to turn off your mobile devices, the temptation to turn them on ‘just to check’ would be so strong that in itself becomes a distraction. Don’t even try. Instead, just be realistic and accept you will get some interruptions and distractions.
I block time out each day for dealing with communications. That way I can stay focused on my work, and then give myself thirty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes late afternoon to deal with messages and emails. It works and minimises interruptions.
Having a to-do list for the day works. It has worked for centuries and it can work for you. If you do struggle to make a to-do list work then stop deluding yourself and get realistic about how much you can really do each day. We are all different, so play around with your list. Reduce the number of tasks down until you find the right balance for you. It doesn’t matter how much work you have to do, you will always be limited by the number of hours you have available to do that work each day. Get realistic.
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