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Life keeps me busy and prevents me from getting to my task manager’s projects and tasks lists. Oftentimes, I deal with the daily demands that come from the boss, co-workers, friends, and any emergency that sets me off-track. I get that frustrated feeling when I’m doing everything else but that Big Rock project or a Most Important Task (MIT) I wanted work on.
I try to split my time between Life’s daily demands and my own projects and tasks. Sometimes, I fail miserably. My own goals, projects, and responsibilities will get shoved aside for someone else’s priorities. I’ve been trying different methods in my personal experiments to see what I can do.
In my previous post, I described how I use my task manager as a menu to hold all of the projects and tasks that I want to work on.
My task manager holds all of my projects and tasks that I’ve committed to but haven’t scheduled yet. I am already committed to whatever is on my calendar. But I haven’t fully committed to what is in my task manager.
I tried to work from my task manager by keeping it open and visible all the time on my Mac and on my iOS devices. I thought that keeping the task app visible on my computer or on my iPhone would help me keep track of all my commitments and complete my tasks. But Life interrupts me as I scurry from daily walk-in clients to the latest emergency and other interruptions that creep upon me.
I have two friction points that occur with my task manager:
- I never schedule time with the projects hiding inside my task manager. My projects hide themselves safely in the task manager. I’ve been meaning to get to them but I never do. I’m taking care of all my calendar events and all of Life’s interruptions. If I don’t schedule a Big Rock or MIT, it won’t get done. It just sits inside my task manager.
- I get distracted when I finish a task and I return back to my iPhone to look for the next task or project to work on. I might look for easy wins and choose brain-dead tasks instead of the tasks I really should be working on. Or I might go into procrastination mode and start tweaking projects and next actions.
I started to realize that I was using my task manager at the wrong time. My task manager should be used during planning time. I should be using my calendar during work time. I’ll explore what I’ve changed to my personal workflow.
I experimented with integrating my calendar with my Today List. My calendar is a view of my hard landscape - deadlines, appointments and periods of busyness when I can’t possibly get to my Most Important Tasks or Big Rock projects. My task manager holds the projects and tasks that should be done but does not need to be done at a particular time.
Using pen-and-paper with my task manager
I use my calendar to show the day’s workflow. In another post (A Different approach to the OmniFocus Today Perspective), I explained how I used OmniFocus to store my tasks and create a short list of the tasks I really want to work on in the new few days:
TL;DR: Choose a small handful of tasks from my task manager. I have a variety of tasks that will keep me interested. I choose a handful of tasks from different contexts and write it down into my daily notebook.
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I choose two to three tasks from my
@Mac context. I choose another two to three tasks from my
@Office context. Then, I’ll select a few more tasks from a few other contexts.
@Mac contexts (2 tasks)
- Backup computers to external hard drives (
- Work on the October advertisement in InDesign (
@Office context (3 tasks)
- File scanned receipts into folders (
- Train new employees - new POS systems (
- Check inventory levels of jewelry (
@Reading (1 task)
- Read new credit card policies (
I like to choose a handful of similar tasks. It’s easier to work in batches when I don’t need to changes contexts.
Then I’ll choose two to three Big Rocks that I want to make significant progress on for the next week:
- Big Rock: Complete employee training survey forms for annual review
- Big Rock: Prepare for October trade show
Printing my Weekly Schedule
I’m still a paper guy when it comes to calendars. I like to use Fantastical to keep the alarms on my iPhone. But when I’m working, I’ll print out the weekly schedule on US Legal paper size (8.5" x 14"). The longer paper sizes gives me extra room and the text isn’t so tiny. Here’s a sample of a typical schedule for me.
I could work in digital and stay with Fantastical. But I love having that calendar printout on my desk. I don’t need to summon Fantastical on my Mac.
I can’t work during on my task manager tasks during certain events such as picking up the kids or attending a meeting. But when I do see an empty time block (usually 30 minutes), I’ll quickly refer to my task list in my notebook and pencil it into my calendar sheet. If something interrupts me, I can always erase it and pencil it in for a later time block.
I realized I was working more efficiently when I worked from my calendar sheet. Penciling in tasks during the day reminds me of what I am focused on. Sometimes I pencil in a task at 1 pm and a walk-in client shows up. When I finish with the walk-in client, I can refer back to the calendar and remember that I was supposed to work on the pencilled-in task. It’s easier to return to a task when I remembered what I did before the interruption.
I keep my task manager app hidden on my Mac. I don’t reach for my iPhone to look at the projects/tasks list. I just look at my calendar and my task list in my notebook.
If I go back to my task manager, I might get distracted and look for easier tasks or start tweaking a current project endlessly. That’s a classic form of procrastination that I try to avoid. Instead, I can look at the calendar sheet to remind me of what I need to get done in the limited time before the next appointment shows up. I refer to my notebook and quickly move it into my calendar. There is no need to tweak my calendar app or my task manager app.
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At the end of the day, I return back to my task manager, check off several tasks as completed, and revise or add tasks based on today’s activity.
The less time I spend in my task manager, the more work I get done. Using a paper task list together with my calendar sheet reduces screen time for me. I’m in the real world. Even if my job requires me to stay glued to my computer, I might still just stick with my calendar sheet and daily notebook. I’m too easily distracted if I keep my task manager and calendar open on my Mac or iPhone.
Building the Daily Gameplan
I create my Today list like a coach’s game plan. I select all the Big Rocks and MITs I want to work on. I close my task manager and then go to the calendar. My calendar gives me the broad landscape of where my pockets of free time are. When I am free of an appointment, I pick one of the tasks or Big Rocks to work on. I don’t refer to my task manager. I work from my Today list which already holds the MITs and Big Rocks I want to work on.
Finishing a task and then going back to the task manager takes me out of work mode and back into emergency scanning mode. I will burn up more time scanning for the next task. The calendar and daily notebook keeps me on track and in work mode.
The less time I spend in my task manager, the more time I have to get work done.
I’m still experimenting and trying to stay “in the zone.” If you have any tips or strategies about how you focus on your Big Rocks and Most Important Tasks while trying to handle the daily pressures of Life, please share!