Time management and do your tasks in a different order

I have been trying out some (new for me) time management techniques.  Various people tell me that they do this naturally, but I had to learn it manually.

This one involves:

  1. Noticing that you don’t really know what you are doing right now.
  2. Looking up when and where is the next fixed appointment.
  3. Calculating how long between now and then.
  4. Working out what you want to do before the appointment.
  5. Counting down and counting backwards through the rest of the time and work out how much spare time you have.

In a worked example:

  1. It’s 8am and I don’t really know what I have to do next.
  2. I have a meeting at 12am.
  3. that’s 4 hours away
  4. Before that meeting I want to:
    • check facebook
    • check my emails
    • Have breakfast
    • write a post
    • travel to the appointment
    • Shower and dress for the appointment
  5. In time calculations that is:
    • check facebook – unknown
    • check my emails – I could spend 30mins on it.
    • Have breakfast – 15mins
    • write a post – 2 hours
    • Shower and dress for the appointment – 20mins
    • travel to the appointment – 20mins

Total: 3hrs 25mins + facebook time.


In this example, if my facebook time takes 35 minutes, I have literally no wiggle room on my estimates.  But more importantly – if I do my facebook time first – and then fail to stop at 35mins, it means that I will either be running late for the rest of the day OR I will have to cut something short.  The old me would probably cut the last task in the list short.  Which might mean running late to the appointment, and it might mean not finishing writing a post on that day, and leaving it as a draft.

Recently I have been trying out a new factor on this system.  To change the order of the tasks.  Some tasks have fixed lengths in time.  Some tasks are more flexible.  For example, the amount of time it takes to shower and get ready is relatively fixed in time.  However the amount of time it takes to write a post can vary extensively.

With this in mind, I will change the order of the tasks.  Where I used to have a shower last, just as I am rushing out – so that I am fresh clean and ready for a meeting (a great idea if I do say so myself). I will now do something like this:

  • Shower and dress for the appointment – 20mins
  • write a post – 2 hours
  • check my emails – I could spend 30mins on it.
  • Have breakfast – 15mins
  • Shower and dress for the appointment – 20mins
  • travel to the appointment – 20mins
  • check facebook – unknown

Or even:

  • Shower and dress for the appointment – 20mins
  • write a post – 2 hours
  • Have breakfast – 15mins
  • Shower and dress for the appointment – 20mins
  • travel to the appointment – 20mins
  • check my emails – I could spend 30mins on it.
  • check facebook – unknown

Do the fixed tasks all in a row and then do the flexible tasks last.  This means I might have got to my appointment 65 minutes early in the 2nd order, or 35 minutes early in order 1, and worked there on the FB or email.

This also means that if any task has to get cut, truncated or shortened due to a failure of myself to account for time, or some blip happening, like traffic, difficulty finding parking, a blog post taking longer to write or any number of other possibilities – The least important task (of checking facebook) gets cut.  Not one of the more important ones.

Today is not a day to work on cutting down or cutting out of facebook, or sending strategic emails that reduce my email workload.  Today is just a day to do things in a different order.  See how that goes, and make incremental progress on the problem of time management.


Meta: this took 20 minutes to write and I am nearly running late to my next appointment.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nul

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