I think one of the biggest problems we have with time management is how we think about the time we’re going to allocate to something.
Will it take a lot of time, a little time, or somewhere in the middle? Before you can be really productive, you need to dedicate just the right amount of time to something – so that you can start and finish what you intended to, leaving you feeling “just right”. That’s Goldilocks work.
All of the work we end up doing falls into three separate buckets: projects, sessions, and tasks.
This might sound obvious, but a project is something that you’re going to be working on for a while. It’s a desire to make, change or fix something, and it’s going to take some time to complete.
Common Mistake: Don’t put projects on your to-do list. Putting something massive on a list and not being able to fully check it off is demotivating and will cause you to procrastinate severely.
How to Approach: I outline projects first on paper and then as new Evernote documents. Give your space room to be messy. Jot down notes, ideas, actions, and anything related to accomplishing the tasks at hand. Projects need to be broken down into many little pieces, but they need to start somewhere.
Work sessions are time blocks that you carve out on your calendar to tackle a particular set of tasks. Work sessions should be at least 2 hours, and no more than 5 hours. This gives you enough time to ramp up by zoning out the rest of your day and catching up on project notes to formulate a game plan. At best, I find I can carve out half a day to focus on something, and then I start to burn out or get hungry. If you want to spend a full day on something, just consider it 2 sessions, and leave time in between to check email and grab some food.
Common Mistake: Work sessions only work when they’re completely interruption free. That means no email, no phone calls and no mid-session meetings. If you need to get at your email for the purposes of the work to be done, check out Inbox Pause by Baydin. This lets you freeze all incoming messages from coming into your inbox until you’re ready for them to start flowing again.
How to Approach: First, schedule a work session on your calendar by blocking out the time and naming it after the work you’ll be done. Then, go through your task manager and handpick the items that you’ll need to complete. I typically move these into a list, so I can see only them and not get distracted by anything else.
Tasks are the smallest chunks of a project – typically things you can do in 5 minutes to 1 hour.
Common Mistake: Tasks that sit around the longest without any movement are usually named improperly. You must call your tasks something actionable. If you stick “blog” on your todo list, you might think about all the posts you have to write, the redesign you’d like to do, coming up with ideas, writing a guest post, or countless other things. It’s easy for your mind to wander. Instead, be specific and actionable. Preparing for this, I wrote, “Write blog post about goldilocks work: projects, sessions, tasks”. It’s very specific, and lets me check it off and move on when I’m finished, rather than renaming the task and losing all sense of progress.
How to Approach: Use a task manager like Todoist, and install it everywhere that you work (your laptop, your phone, inside your email application, etc). When a task pops into your head, jot it down immediately. I drop tasks into one of three places: today (for instance, and errand on the way home), my inbox (a place where I can date and process later), or a list (if it relates to work I’ll be doing in an upcoming work session).
If you feel like you’re getting nothing done, it’s likely because you’re using the wrong measuring stick. Break your projects into sessions and tasks, and watch the progress you make!