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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How to get work done

when you happen to be in the tropical rainy season

Whether you are around the equator or somewhere else, there are times when being productive is harder than usual due to certain circumstances.

June and July are the coldest months here in Kenya. In Nairobi, that means drizzling grey days and muddy streets. That not only drains the energy, but also has some side effects that call for adjustment in my working day.

But there is cure and it doesn’t matter where you are or how the weather is there – I am sure some of these hints can also help you get back into a productive working routine.

Calculate blackouts

Always have alternatives of what to do when the power goes as this might occur more regular in the rainy season. For me this includes working on my handwritten novel, knowing which veggies need to be cut or which beans need to be sorted for dinner or lunch. Also, letters are perfect to be written during blackout. I make sure to have my laptop fully charged all the time. In that way, I can still work for two more hours into the blackout.

It’s also crucial to back up your work regularly. Consider a smartphone. I am having one for a month now and if there is an emergency that needs internet I might be able to fix it via smartphone that has internet bundles.

Work in sprints

If it is not raining, I consider going out and getting the groceries for the day or some credit or at least some fresh air. I can also hang clothes or do bank stuff. There may be long periods in which I cannot leave the house without getting showered. As I work during these, I am trying to use the slightly dryer breaks to catch some air and get away from the laptop.

Stay positive

Grey skies and muddy paths are not the greatest happiness enforcers and accordingly, my work energy quickly is in danger to drown. So I make sure that I have enough cocoa at hand (the only addiction I allow myself), and maybe some cookies, some comfy clothes to not freeze (thanks Mum for the wrist warmers) and some good music. Photos or other visual stimulation also help, and candles if you like, to create a general positive working environment.

Don’t do it alone

I have invited friends to my place (because mine has wifi) and we will work alongside or on projects together. They keep me company, definitely help the whole stay-positive issue and if they are working, I can’t go on straying through the internet, but better also do some serious work. It’s encouraging to have others around.

This is how I work during rainy season. Where are you working from? And how do you make it happen there? Tell me in the comments below!

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What to do when people start asking for your help

and how to get there in the first place

Lately several people have asked me for help with their websites, blogging and social media. Now, I didn’t study any of these and I have none but my personal, non-commercial experience with them. I also don’t own a business or spread business cards saying that I do websites and social media. Yet, people want my help, my advice, my service.

That happens because of two things:

One: I systematically expose myself.

Not a very fun thing to do as a recently come-out introvert. It drains my energy and time for a very tiny outcome. Yet it is the people I met and whom I am following up with who are approaching and in some cases even paying me.

Two: I know what I stand for.

Another insight I gained very recently. Not that I have figured it all out, you know, the whole “My Life Purpose”, “My Calling” stuff. But I am confident enough, in fact, I can’t do otherwise but to introduce myself as a writer and freelancer.

In that way, the people I meet get me because I am talking sense straight from my heart. That makes connection much easier than for example with a person who doesn’t stand behind the business they are talking about.

Getting to that point where people start asking you for help is hard and uncomfortable, but doable and rewarding work.

Because now I get to hear things like: Oh, you blog, could you show me how to do it? Or: I need a new website, do you have any ideas? Or even: That last blog post of yours was really inspiring. (I’m not making these up, by the way. Those are things people recently said to me and it feels amazingly good!)

And I am left with only one option: Show up.

That is why I revived the blog. That is why I sleep the latest and wake up the earliest I can. That is why I force myself to produce more helpful content for my readers, why I struggle with HTML, why I almost always faint when the rains cause yet another blackout that leaves me unable to work on my laptop for several hours. That is why I, an old-fashioned soul and mobile phone dyslexic, I got a smartphone to do email and social media and reading in the Nairobi traffic jam.

If you have ever been asked for help by someone or gotten even a tiny piece of praise, then you know how good it feels, how it causes goose-bumps and makes your face flush red, how you want to hug the person who just said it, how you want to frame that sentence, however small it was, and hang it on your personal wall of fame.

To get there, do this: expose yourself.

When you got there and people are reacting, don’t stop.

Do this: Show up.

Keep the good work going.

What was the best thing somebody told you about your work? And how did you invest that statement into more work? Let me know in the comments.

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