Priorities – how and why they work

and why some don’t

I recently tried to find out how I am using my time. I set an alarm every half an hour and wrote down what I had done and which kind of priority it was. I used Sage Grayson’s time log for that and I did it exactly two days. Then I gave up.

Sage Grayson uses the Eisenhower or Convey method of prioritising tasks. Those guys make you analyse whether the task is important or not and whether it is urgent or not.

This distinction is important because many people take urgent tasks for important by default, and end up doing a lot of urgent stuff but not really making an impact.

The tasks with the highest priority should be both urgent and important. Closely followed by those that are important, but not urgent. (Think of something like exercise, figuring out your retirement plan etc. There is no sense of urgency and we tend to forget them, yet the importance of them makes them second priority.)

Only then will the urgent but not important tasks follow. And the lowest priority have obviously those that are neither important nor urgent.

It turned out in my experiment that my priorities don’t work like that.

Maybe because I don’t have a job in real sense.

Maybe I am too happy-go-lightly.

Maybe because I enjoy going with a certain flow instead of sticking to a fixed discipline.

However, I still struggle with time management, procrastination and productivity. My recent reintroduction of one screenfree day per week makes me question those issues and the feeling of guilt of wasting time. I want to get beyond that.

One way of doing so is to make a task list every day and tick the stuff I got done, but deliberately leave some tasks undone and then try to not feel guilty or bad about it. I never got to the deliberate part, because currently I don’t have to try hard to leave things undone. It happens naturally.

Yet, I also mark the tasks on my list, but not according to urgency and importance. I developed my own marks:

  • A star is for priority (probably an important and maybe even urgent task). I give out three stars per day maximum.
  • A tick means effortless. Stuff like zero-ing my feedly, which I always enjoy doing, or syncing my Google drive, which needs a few clicks and then does the work by itself in the background.
  • And an arrow means that it goes fast. A quick email with links I promised to send someone or putting some audiobooks on my MP3 player (preparation for the screenfree day).

I try to do the priorities first, but if they take long and have a lot of minor tasks which they are broken into, then I set up the stuff that will run in the background first and when I take breaks I will do the fast tasks in between.

Even if I’m spending the entire day on one single project, I can easily incorporate theses priorities.

Which system works for you? How do you set priorities? And what are they? Please let me know in the comments, I would love to try out new strategies!

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Six lessons I learned in September

Icnluding some link love – what I found helpful during last month.

#1a: Good things happen in bulk. Therefore you also need to react in bulk.

When I moved here I started from zero. I had to come up with new routines and I am still struggling to find a job. In addition to that I worked on the blog and started to pitch online magazines. There were long weeks without anything happening and a couple of disappointments. And then, suddenly, within two days, I got a bunch of positive emails. All those blogs wanted me to edit my articles as soon as possible in order to put them out there. I got some last minute reference letters for applications I had already given up on. And I got a lot of positive feedback on the blog.

Now I had to react to all of that within the shortest time. Applications could finally be sent, and three articles needed to be edited at the same time. That is when my motivation spiked and I had the energy, inspiration and the guts to do all that. At night I fell into my bed like a stone, having spent the whole day in front of the laptop, but I was very productive and fulfilling.

#1b: Even motivation comes in bulk.

There are days when I want to accomplish so much, and not even halfway I end up reading or having a nap, and then I get lost in other peoples’ blogs, or walk around – basically, I procrastinate like nobody’s business. I have no inspiration. And the next day I wake up and I can do all that I wanted and more! I realised that’s normal. You cannot drive full speed all the time. Your body needs rest, your mind needs to regain inspiration, your battery needs to recharge. I learned to embrace and accept those waves. When I’m down, I don’t force it, I just wait for the next high, an I stopped feeling bad about it.

#2: One-thing-to-do-lists work.

Now that I know that I can be motivated and productive in bulk, and have to procrastinate a day or two per week, I strictly try to schedule not more than one thing per day in the beginning of the week. There will be friends coming over, there will be meetings to attend and spontaneous errands to run. So if I assign myself to one single thing per day, I am quite sure to be able to accomplish it. I will feel great and I might even have for all the other things that will have come up until then.

#3: Writing comes from writing.

I have written about that before and it has proven true once again.

#4: Scary things first.

Eat that frog! Do the worst thing first, before even checking your emails. Instead of pushing annoying duties away and letting the anxiety for them grow, I tackle them first thing in the morning.

#5: The internet sucks up my time.

I do a lot online. Most of what I do at the moment happens on the internet. Once a week I try to break the circle with the screenfree day. And I am going to challenge myself and you, dear reader, for an outgoing November. Join the email list and watch this space for updates on that.

#6: Getting out is important.

That is just a continuation of Lesson #5. Walking, meeting others, moving my body and exposing myself to the outside world is important and inspiring and a great way of a break, even if sometimes I simply need to force it.

What were your main lessons last month? Let me know in the comments below!

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Master Log 08: Reading books on the day you borrowed them

and why immediate action is important

In June I will have to hand in my Master thesis and final project. Here I keep a diary on my progress and show how certain techniques are applicable in non-academic life.

Once I have started diving into a topic, it is hard for me to come back to the surface. Provided I am interested in the topic, I can go on forever with collecting material. Everything seems interesting and relevant. When the search has begun, books and journal articles just keep piling on my desk, and one article leads to twenty others.

The library is eight kilometers from my flat. Therefore I have to plan carefully what to borrow when, because in case I forget something, it takes me more than half an hour by bike to go there and get it. On the other hand, I don’t fancy carrying those huge and heavy books all the way home and at a certain point back to the library again.

So recently I decided to work in the library. That had several advantages:

  • It was quiet and the few people around me were working on their own stuff, which encouraged me to be productive myself. Changing places can be a motivation boost and eliminate many distractions.
  • I was sitting at the source. When I found a hint in one book to another one, I could just go look for it and continue reading. I was surrounded by inspiring material that could enrich my thesis.
  • But most importantly: I could pick the book, sit down and read the relevant chapters right away. Instead of going through the whole research process, walking along the shelves, collecting several books, packing them in my backpack, going home and then doing something else, I immediately acted on the newly found material.

The last point not only applies to literature for a thesis. It generally helps with everything. Do not postpone things. React immediately. I do that with my EMAILS. I used to keep emails that I had read in my inbox but I would wait for a good moment to answer them. The thing is: That good moment never comes. The unanswered mails piled in the inbox. Instead, now I react immediately. What I have read, I either answer right away or put in the archive. I don’t allow myself to postpone anything.

When I get an ASSIGNMENT, I am trying to do it immediately, even if it is due not before three weeks. In those three weeks other assignments will pop up and then I will get stressed.

After cooking and eating, I do the DISHES right away. Everything that can go to the dishwasher, goes there and the rest I wash right after eating. In that way, the work load is smaller and faster to do, and nothing gets the chance to accumulate to a nasty pile.

When I was through with all the books, I put the relevant quotes in my referencing software, put the books back on the shelves and went home, a good step closer to finishing the literature review.

What can you do NOW? Do it! React!