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The Key to Keeping Your Work Focused

Judging by the questions that readers ask in the Comments and Discussion Forum, people have a lot of difficulty grasping one of the major advantages of Do It Tomorrow.

This is that it provides a powerful way to check that your work is in focus.

The way it does this is by insisting that you have to be able to process one day’s incoming work per day on average. This is such an important point that I resist strongly all suggestions from users of the system that they should try to schedule some of their current work for dates further away than tomorrow. The reason I resist this is because all it achieves is to disguise the fact that they are not able to keep up with their work as it falls due. They will then be allowing their focus to disperse and the quality of their work will suffer - and so probably will their sense of well-being and control.

Remember that DIT allows a 4 to 5 day rhythm to your work. So if you get behind on your Will Do list for a couple of days, you can catch up within the next couple of days. This is perfectly ok, because the amount of time available on any one day is rarely going to balance exactly the amount of work to be done that day. But it must balance out over a fairly short period.

This is often a problem for people who have multiple projects to juggle. And it is in precisely this sort of situation that it is most easy to lose track of one’s focus. So with regard to major projects here are some principles which DIT offers:

1. Projects without deadlines are best handled one at a time. This is generally speaking the quickest way to get them on-line and earning you money (or preventing you from losing it!).

2. Projects with deadlines should be commenced at the beginning of the time available, not at the end of the time available. This allows you to take advantage of the “little and often” principle and prevents the project being disrupted by unforeseen circumstances.

3. You should aim to be up-to-date with all actions on all active projects. This means that all “next actions” relating to active projects should be in your Task Diary for tomorrow. That represent the real amount of current work which you have. As I’ve said above, any attempts to schedule some of this for further away than tomorrow will simply disguise how much work you have, and lose the benefits of DIT focus.

Related articles:

Dealing with Projects That Don’t Have a Deadline

Auditing Your Time Management

Reader Comments (5)

Hi Mark

Thanks for this blog entry. I think when you have read a book a little while ago it is easy to lose sight of some of the specifics and therefore it is always good to be reminded of them, especially by the author himself!

One thing that has occurred to me lately while reading some of the recent comments and discussion forum entries is that some of us might have forgotten that DIT is a very specific Time Management tool and therefore there are other management tools which we will be using alongside depending on our needs. I think it's very easy to lose sight of that and think that DIT has to cover all our needs in one. So projects will have all sorts of notes/plans, etc. that are not in the task diary and don't need to be. Perhaps you might one day feel inclined to cover some other organisational aspects than purely time management that may help us with some of those other areas. Of course you do mention some of them from time to time anyway, like the UNO.

Thanks for all you do and I hope this comment isn't too random but I had been noticing that many of us have possibly been confusing other areas of self/project management with time management.
March 14, 2008 at 14:21 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
Thanks, Hannah.

I've been stressing receontly in some recent posts that one must make a distinction between project management and managing oneself within a project.
March 14, 2008 at 15:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark

Oops sorry! I've just caught up with some of the posts from the beginning of this month (specifically the "Dealing with Projects That Don't Have a Deadline" and the "From Pipe-Dream to Project" blog entries) which cover exactly what I was meaning.

Both the above posts really help with deciding which projects to tackle and when.

Thank you again for your valuable advice!
March 14, 2008 at 21:53 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
Do you have any suggestions for establishing a day's work for people who make their own work?

I'm currently writing my PhD thesis, and I have been struggling for a long time to add some kind of structure and rhythm to my days. I recently read DIT and I have had some success in applying the principles, but since most of my actual daily tasks are long-term projects and I have very little external pressure to get things done on specific days, I'm finding it difficult to define what a day's work really is.

I have a strong tendency to "time-binge", or spend entire days and sometimes several days working furiously, followed by long periods of very little work. In the past I have been very successful with last-minute panic and it is proving to be extremely hard to un-learn this strategy. The two main problems I have are that I find it hard to break things down into smaller tasks, and to maintain continuity from one day to the next. Often when I'm on a roll I don't want to stop working and go to bed for fear that I will forget what I was going to write next, and I end up staying up all night. Even when I try to leave notes for myself, I find it hard to pick up the pieces.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can practice specific skills to overcome these problems?

Excellent work, by the way. I find your methods very sensible and reasurring.
April 3, 2008 at 14:16 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
Dear Amanda

It's difficult to give concrete recommendations without knowing what type of work your "long-term projects" are. Are they all related to the thesis, or are there other things as well?

Generally speaking with PhD theses, the following principles apply:

1) Do *something* on it every working day without fail. This is essential to keep it alive in your mind.

2) Make yourself frequent artificial deadlines (as specific as possible) for various stages of the project, and then make them real by, say, agreeing to discuss your work with your tutor or with a friend on a certain day,

3) Don't get caught up with "completion syndrome", i.e. working on and on until you feel you have finished something. This is usually the worst way to work on a long project because once your mind feels it has finished something, it is then very difficult to get started again (as you have found). It's much better to stop while you are in the middle of something - then your mind *wants* to get it finished the next day. This also allows the subject to mature in your mind. Don't worry about forgetting things. In fact the opposite is usually true - you will have thought of more things by the time you start again.

4) Give yourself a definite time each day by which you will stop working, and stop dead when you reach it.
April 3, 2008 at 14:44 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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