Thursday, June 10, 2021

So little time....

Douglas Adams once said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by".

I used to suck at time-management. I have a real grasshopper mind, that jumps from one topic to another at such a rate that few people can keep up with me and they are flummoxed by the connections that I make between topics. That said, I have come up with a few tricks that allow me to manage my time so that I actually get things done. I still sometimes miss deadlines, but that's more due to workload than lack of time management.

1) Keeping a To-Do list. The most effective To-Do list manager I have ever had is a text file on my desktop called ToDo.txt. Each task is one line. When I complete a task, I delete it from ToDo.txt. That's it. No due-dates, no priorities, no having completed tasks hanging around with when it was completed. I put everything I need to do in this list. Even small tasks, like sending an email to someone, get added to the list if I can't do it straight away.

2) Doing one thing at a time. This is hard to do these days, as distractions are just a mouse click away. But I've lost so much time by starting one task, then another task, and not getting either of them done. So I try to get one specific task done, then start on the next. If something pops up during my pursuit of one task, then I put it on my To-Do list.

3) Get one task done first thing. I try to complete one small task when I arrive at work. This gets me into the mindset of working, and it gives me a psychological boost - no  matter what distractions come my way the rest of the day, at least I've gotten that one thing done. What usually happens, though, is I do that one small thing, then another, then another, and before I know it, I've gotten a lot of things done. This ties in with rule #2, doing one thing at a time.

4) Having more than one project to do. No matter what project I'm working on, there will always come a point when I can't stand to work on it any more. Rather than just sit fuming at my lack of productivity, I switch to another task and work on that instead. I might not be moving forward on the first project, but I'm not being completely unproductive either. This is especially useful when working on papers, as I can never finish writing a paper in one sitting.

5) Getting enough rest. It is very tempting to think that working late, sacrificing sleep for work, means you get a lot done. After all, you can spend eight hours sleeping, and not working, or you can spend four hours sleeping and do an extra four hours work, right? Except those four hours extra late at night are nowhere near as productive as spending one hour the next day doing the same work with a clear mind and energetic body. Lack of sleep is terrible for the human body, it slows your mind down and just ruins your ability to handle complex intellectual tasks. You're much more likely to get sick more often, and how much does that impact your productivity? It's much better to sleep eight hours, then spend eight hours the next day at work, and maybe an hour or so working in the evening. You'll get a lot more done. Sometimes you will need to work late to hit a pressing deadline, but those incidents should be rare.

It can be hard to follow these principles. Life has a habit of getting in the way. But when I do follow them, I get a lot more done and I feel a lot better about myself, because I am being productive.

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