I’ve talked before about planning what to do next, but something I occasionally find useful is setting aside particular times for particular tasks.
This is a technique that works especially well when there are a lot of things to be done in a fixed amount of time and the tasks are independent of each other. For example, in my last week before NaNoWriMo, all of these things needed to be done before the end of October:
- blog posts: I had two NaNo-related series I needed to finalise that week, a goals update, a NaNo bell ringer to start the month, and another idea to round it out to a full week.
- gaming – I had agreed to run a game on the evening of the 1st November. In retrospect this was a crazy thing to do, but I did want to round off the story so we would be able to take a break for a few weeks. So I had a bit of prep to do there.
- NaNovel – outline needed to be finished before the bell rang.
(and this is all separate from what I was doing at work – it was a busy week there, too – and with my family)
What I did was to nominate particular groups of tasks to particular times of day for the week:
- do outline and gaming work on the bus
- outline on the way in
- gaming on the way home until that’s done, then outline
- work on blog posts in the morning and evening
- do some blog planning and image creation during lunch
This simple plan really got me through the stack of work
Where this approach does not work is if you have a lot of tasks which are dependent on each other (i.e. they have to be completed in order) or where you have just one task to work on (e.g. write the manuscript for NaNoWriMo).
I also find that this is a technique which works for me over short time periods. I’ve successfully done hour-by-hour day plans before now, but those are only usually effective for a few days. Similarly, this time-slot approach works to keep me focussed on the work for a week or two but tends to get stale after that.
Where I can see this being an effective long-term strategy is if you allocate particular times of day to specific types of work, if you have enough self-knowledge to know when your brain works best on certain things and if you have enough control over your schedule to choose when to work on what you want, but neither of those conditions holds in my case.
Do you have techniques to help with chewing through a big pile of work in a limited time?