What is the simplest list-based time management method?
I can remember years ago listing all my tasks as they presented themselves and then doing them in the same order that I had listed them. In other words, I was doing my tasks in strict First In, First Out (FIFO) order.
What I found of course is that I got bogged down pretty quickly. I ground gradually to a halt while the list grew longer and longer. In theory it was a great method for ensuring that everything got done. In practice, slogging through a list that only got longer and longer was mind-numbingly dull, with very little sense of achievement or completion.
Some years later I tried a similar system. This time, instead of doing the items in the order I had written them down, I did them in any order I liked. This worked much better than the first system. It felt much less like hard slog, and I found I could get a lot done very quickly.
The trouble was that that although I was getting lots of work done, it was the relatively easy work. The more difficult items tended to stay on the list for ever. I could of course try various techniques like working for a short time on a task and then re-entering it, but nevertheless working in this way resulted in a lot of easy and trivial work, and not much challenging and productive work.
I did notice one advantage though: because there was no compulsion actually to do a task, I was quite prepared to write even the most difficult task on the list.
So is there a way of running a simple list which avoids the drawbacks of these two methods, but keeps their advantages?
Yes, there is! Here’s how.
I discovered that all I had to do once I’d drawn the list up was to draw a line at the end of it. Then I continued to add new items to the end of the list but didn’t allow myself to work on them until I had finished all the items up to the line. I could do those in any order I liked.
Once I’d finished the items above the line, I drew another line at the end of the new items and did the same again.
This has some huge advantages:
1) It’s complete. Everything I write down gets done.
2) I get the advantage of the principle that procrastination is relative. The easier items act as displacement activities for the more difficult ones, so working becomes much easier. Even when I have only two difficult items left, one is still easier than the other.
3) The last item left above the line may be difficult, but the reward I get for doing it is a huge sense of completion. I have finished everything above the line, and can now draw another line. There’s a wonderful feeling of making a fresh start.
4) When I draw the line under the new items, everything above that line represents all the due work that I have at that moment. This makes it easy for me to judge whether my workload matches my capacity. If it takes longer and longer each time to clear the list, then I know that I have more work coming in than I am able to process. If the time remains reasonably stable, then I know that my workload is correct. I try to keep the time from drawing one line to drawing the next at not more than one day. Any longer than that and my response time to emails, etc., is going to be too slow.
You may have realised by now that this system is virtually identical to the core components of “Do It Tomorrow” - just that it’s not tied quite so rigidly to one day. In fact I am finding that this added element of flexibility is making the system easier to work, and I shall be incorporating this modification into the DIT seminars I run in the future.