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« Evernote - A Note Taking Program | Main | Seminars »

Structured v. Unstructured?

(This article is taken from the current issue of my newsletter)
One of the great advantages of the time management methods that I describe in Do It Tomorrow is that you know when you have finished your day's work. I don't know of any other time management system that allows you to do that. With every other system or method, you are left at the end of the day with a seemingly unending supply of further work that you could be doing. With Do It Tomorrow, you can say "That's it! That's the end of my day's work. I am completely up to date."

Another advantage of the Do It Tomorrow system is that it's easy to check whether your workload equals the time available to complete it. Because it always keeps the link between one day's worth of incoming work and one day's worth of outgoing work, you can see exactly how your work fits into your time. This again is difficult or impossible with most conventional time management systems.

This presents us with an opportunity - particularly if you are someone who works from home or owns your own business. We've all heard of Parkinson's Law: "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion." You will know from your own experience that it's often when you have the least time available that you get the most done. When you have nothing in your schedule all day, then there's a tendency to faff about achieving nothing very much - so much so that you end up working late in order to get all the things done which you failed to do during the day!

But what would happen if, instead of allowing your work to expand to fill the time available, you ruthlessly pruned your work down to the essentials and aimed to finish it as quickly as possible?

Most of us have taken on far too many commitments, most of which only serve to distract us from our core work. If you concentrate on the core work and refuse to allow anything in that will take your attention away from it, then a) would you finish your work in more or less time than now? and b) would you be more or less effective at your real work?

I've been experimenting with this over the past few weeks. First of all I cut my Will Do list down to the bare minimum. I refused to allow anything into it that didn't relate specifically to the stated goals for my business. Out went all my pet projects and time wasting commitments. In came all the actions that would take my business forward. Having defined exactly what I meant by "work", I ensured that nothing that didn't comprise work was allowed a place on the list.

My next step was to start getting up at 6.30 and hitting the Will Do list straight away, allowing nothing to distract me except a quick breakfast after I'd been working for an hour or so. I found that I could finish the whole Will Do list in about four to four and a half hours. That means that I am currently finishing my whole day's work by 10.30 to 11 a.m. each day. And what's more it is far more focused than before.

So the structured part of my day is over. What do I do with the rest of the day? Whatever I want! If I want to I can get on with some of the stuff which I chucked out in order to focus on my real work. But usually I get out and do the enjoyable things which I've been meaning to do for ages but haven't had time because I've been too "busy".

So remember: it's certainly true that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, but the converse is also true - if the time available is reduced, the work will contract too.

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