When we think about managing our time we tend to think in terms of what we are going to do in a day or a week or a month.
But in fact one of the most useful units of time for time management purposes is the hour. If you focus on what you are going to achieve during the next hour you will have a much closer focus.
Hence one of the simplest of all task management systems is to write down what you intend to do over the next hour, and then to do it. There’s no need to time this exactly to the minute. We’re talking about a period of time in the region of an hour.
Over the last few days I’ve been experimenting with some ways of doing this and it’s been working really well for me. The rules I’ve standardised on have been:
- Start the day by writing a list of what you intend to do over the next hour
- Do the tasks in order
- Top up the list at intervals as you go along so it always contains about one hour’s work (there’s no need to be too exact about this).
- There’s no specific provision for re-entering unfinished or recurring tasks. You can just add them as and when you want to, remembering to keep within the limit of an hour’s work.
- Non-discretionary work such as appointments and meetings do not count towards the hour, e.g. if you’re going to a two-hour meeting you can put tasks on your list for when it finishes.
- Finish the day by completing every task remaining.
- Basically aim to do the tasks in the order you’ve written them down, but if you have a good reason to adjust the order or add or remove tasks out of sequence feel free to do so.
Contrary to my normal preference, this is best done electronically. I’m currently using putting each day’s list on a note in Evernote with tick boxes. Evernote has the advantage that I can access the list on the web, on my desktop and on my SmartPhone, whichever is most convenient at the time.
You can really get a lot of work done with this. Here is my actual list for today (Friday) - not a copy, it’s the actual list I am using. (I’ve disguised some items for reasons of privacy). As I write this the list is still incomplete, but it will update automatically as I work on it so you will be seeing the complete version. “Prepare Box Hill” includes a three hours absence in the afternoon doing hill running and walking. By the way “Box Hill” is the name of some local hilly country, not some new-fangled form of exercise! This is the country I grew up in.
If I’d been presented with a list 49 items long at the beginning of the day I wouldn’t have had a hope of finishing it. But writing a few tasks at a time and doing a few tasks at a time gradually adds up to what you see.