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Getting things done in tough times
Many centuries ago, Seneca pointed out:
It’s not that life is short. It’s that we squander a lot of it.
Add to that the more modern dilemmas of digital distraction, plus our yen for keeping up with what’s going on in the world, and using your time wisely becomes difficult indeed.
Believe it or not, your trusty old calendar can help you figure out how best to use the time you have this week. It’s the perfect tool for making a plan that’s actually doable.
That’s because unlike your to-do list, a calendar reflects the fact that your time is limited. And keeping time limits front and center can help us focus on what’s important.
Today: Four ways to get more out of your week in tough times (or anytime)
Match your work to your energy level
Planning a romantic dinner when your partner has a big presentation at work the next day is probably not the best idea. Dinner on a Friday when you both have the weekend off works better.
That’s why it also makes sense to schedule your own work in line with your changing energy levels throughout the week, where possible. And then guard those precious productive moments.
There’s no greater gift you can give yourself than to tackle your most important or complex job at the times when you’re the freshest and most energetic.
Earlier in the week, earlier in the day
I’ve found that when planning my week, it always helps to schedule important jobs – and the things I don’t feel like doing – earlier in the week and earlier in the day. My stress levels are lower then, as are the chances that something else will come up that requires my attention.
And if I run into any problems or if the job turns out to be more complicated than I thought, I still have time left in my week to sort it out.
Earlier in the week will even work for the night owls among us.
Plan your own work generously
My rule of thumb: Make meetings as short and sweet as possible. But schedule your own tasks and projects a little roomier. I generally round up to the next hour or half hour.
Of course it can sometimes help to plan things tight, so you’ll feel the need to finish up. But I’ve found that doesn’t really work in the long run. Planning more generous time blocks for my work keeps me from trying to squeeze too much into my day. That’s always a big help.
Break blocks of work into “splits,” each with a clear first step
Maybe you’ve already earmarked big chunks of time in your calendar when you’ll work on a certain project. Or maybe you’ve reserved time that you’ll devote to thinking through a key goal. Still, it can be hard to get started when the time comes.
What helps is making those time blocks much more concrete. Three hours of concentrated work on a single task is next to impossible, so divvy your time up. First a half-hour on Task A, then an hour on Task B, and so on. And add to your calendar what steps you want to start with. See to it that your first step is super clear.
Getting going just got a whole lot easier.
Have a good week,
PS Heard of 80,000hours.org? This nonprofit calculates the hours in a typical working life and helps people put their time toward clear goals, to truly make a difference. Could be useful!