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« The Top 10 Ways of Being Unproductive | Main | Testing the New System »

The Order You Do Things Is Important

“The order in which you do things is important” sounds like a statement of the blindingly obvious - and it is. But the fact that it’s a statement of the obvious doesn’t necessarily mean that we remember to apply it when we need to. One area in which it particularly tends to be forgotten is setting up the beginning of your day. This is significant because he beginning of your day is a key point because it’s then that the sort of day you are going to have is decided. If you get off to a rocky start the rest of your day will be disjointed. On the other hand a good start-up routine will give you a firm highway for the day.

Many people start the day by clearing the small items first and then working up to the more weighty matters. Unfortunately the small items have a habit of extending themselves over most of the day. The result is that oft repeated phrase “It’s four o’clock already and I haven’t done a thing!”

We tend to fall into a routine at the start of the day without really noticing it. Like all routines it needs to be examined with the aim of improving it. Do this especially if you are finding that you are reaching the end of the day without doing the things which you intended to do.  The beauty of a no-list system is that you can examine the evidence easily because it shows you exactly what you have done and the order you in which you did it - something which a conventional to do list doesn’t do.

Here are some of the mistakes that people who work from home often make (I speak from experience):

Not getting up at the same time every day. You can’t develop a steady routine if you have no firm base from which to start.

Leaving breakfast until after you’ve cleared routine minor tasks. The usual result is that breakfast and lunch merge together and the morning is frittered away on minor stuff.

Not making the most important thing you have to do the first task. This is the best way to ensure that the most important thing you have to do doesn’t get done.

Doing the short easy tasks first and the longer more difficult ones last. Short easy tasks have a habit of expanding to fill the whole day.

If you are an office worker the first two don’t apply so much, but the last two do.

The most important part of auditing your routine is “Look at the first task”. If you get that right, the rest will naturally follow. A good rule of thumb is that the more time you need to spend on something the earlier you should get it on your list.

Reader Comments (7)

@ Mark Forster

> Not making the most important thing you have to do the first task.

This "first task", of course follows one's standard routine, which in your case, Mark, ...

... gets me sitting in front of my computer after breakfast, with schedule checked, email checked, voicemail checked, Facebook checked, stock market valuation checked, desk tidy, I don't need a to-do list to get that far

as described at ?
March 1, 2016 at 11:16 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
@ Mark Forster

> ... making the most important thing you have to do the first task.

Fine, but ... the various forms of FV are pretty good at leading one up to the most important thing through the easier / more congenial / or whatever things on the selection list. Structured procrastination is still a pretty good technique for overcoming resistance.

But I'm currently using 5T (starting from scratch each day ). The instructions say: do the tasks in order. Together with what you say in this post, this implies that the five items should be consciously placed in a desired order (most important first) before starting to work the list.

March 1, 2016 at 11:29 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper

Basically yes. If not the very first item, then most certainly in the first batch of five.
March 1, 2016 at 16:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I know I'm always playing the devil's advocate, but I frequently have the opposite experience: I'll spend all day (or all week) working on a large project and letting little things like bookkeeping, clearing inboxes, following up with people, etc. fall through the cracks. Then I may have to spend half the week just getting caught up if I don't want things to start breaking.
March 2, 2016 at 19:53 | Unregistered CommenterEurobubba

<< I frequently have the opposite experience: I'll spend all day (or all week) working on a large project and letting little things like bookkeeping, clearing inboxes, following up with people, etc. fall through the cracks.>>

I'm not sure that is the opposite experience. I didn't say the correct order is to do the most important thing only. I said it's to do it first.
March 2, 2016 at 21:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Eurobubba, I am also like that!

You do however need to consider that your most important thing might be the small things you neglect, rather the big thing.

It is especially more important if you start the day and you have a backlog from the previous day. Then in all probability you need to bump the small things up on your list.
March 3, 2016 at 1:53 | Unregistered CommenterNico
Declaring a half-day for mosquito tasks every so often works well for me. It keeps the pressure on, so I focus on the important mosquitoes, and good-enough. (30 second vs PowerPoint, as another commenter mentioned.)

How often? Three items per batch is a magic number for me. Three stores downtown. Three items at the mall. Three phone calls. So, when the batch is about 3, it's time.

When doing deep work, I add any mosquito tasks to an accumulation list. Since I want to keep my focus on the deep work, minimal filtering when recording. Just enough thought and details that I trust I can pick it up on mosquito day, then back to the deep work.

(Also consider, lightly, if the number of internal distractions is a sign that I need to brain-dump or do mosquitoes so my brain is clear for the deep work.)

Filtering happens at the start of mosquito day.
March 8, 2016 at 14:15 | Registered CommenterCricket

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