One time management practice I advocate is this: When you do a thing that wasn’t on your to-do list, write it down anyway and cross it off. This helps you assess what you actually did.
Often when we get to the end of the day, we feel as if we haven’t accomplished much. But this feeling can be deceptive. At the end of the day, review your to-do list. Take time to appreciate what you did accomplish. If unplanned items are there, you’ll have a better sense of what you finished. And if for some reason you failed to accomplish the thing you meant to do, assess why. More importantly, decide whether it’s important.
For example, one item on my to-do list for Sunday was to write 2500 words. That’s way higher than my normal daily word count because I’m behind and I needed to get a lot done on the weekend or overburden myself Monday and Tuesday to reach my 10,000-word goal for the month. That was a partial success, but I only wrote 1500 words, so now I have to do an additional 500 words on Monday and Tuesday.
What I did Sunday that was not on my list was knit a sweater. Is this a problem? I decided it’s not a big problem, because finishing this sweater is one of my goals. But I could have written first and knit later.
So at the end of each day, review what went right and what went wrong and why. Prioritize what needs to be done the next day. Clear out your inbox. Go through your brain dump collection points and sort by importance and deadline. Write your Post-it Note for the next day.
Review at Longer Intervals, Too
Charles E. Hummel, the author of The Tyranny of the Urgent, recommends not only a daily but also a weekly and a monthly review, not only for practical purposes but spiritual ones. He warns that as we get busy, we can lose sight of what’s really important. He writes, “Frenetic service for God can become an escape from God.” Prayer and perspective and planning can keep us from becoming frenetic.
One hour spent planning is worth four hours of execution.—Crawford Greenewalt, former president of DuPont
If we fail to plan, our time can be taken over by the urgent. But it is possible to spend so much time on calendars and to-do lists and apps that we fail to get the work done.
I once had a free three-month trial subscription to a monthly magazine called Time Management. It only took two issues for me to figure out that no way was I going to subscribe to this magazine. Each issue took more than half an hour to read. You see the problem.
Don’t let your tools or your planning get in the way of doing the work.
A time and motion study can show whether you’re spending too much time keeping track of your time. An app called Rescue Time can also help. It runs in the background on your computer, and sends you a report at the end of the week telling you how you did on your time management goals. You can adjust the settings as needed to classify various apps and websites as productive or not. Rescue Time runs on Mac, Windows, Android, and Linux but not iOS, which is unfortunate for those of us who do a lot of work on an iPad. Upgrading from the free to the paid version will allow you to manually enter that kind of time.
Periodic reviews like this help you take time to appreciate your major milestones and small wins. And the day-end review will help clear your mind and wind down. It also lets you hit the ground running the next day.