Who has never started her or his work day with minor, quick or low-value tasks just because you felt tired or moody and not really up to handle bold tasks requiring a total focus and quite an effort? or, saying that after a while the motivation will cheer you up because it’s just difficult to get started? Wishful thinking! But, there’s nothing unusual and wrong about that. It’s just not the more efficient manner to get on with productivity.

A minimum of work organization and planning is necessary not to spread out on low priority tasks that will surely lead you to more frustration than anything else. The appropriate tool to plan your time ahead is definitely a calendar. Nothing new and exceptional about that. Everybody knows about the function of a calendar. Do we however all know how to use it as a real productivity tool?

This question and its underlying idea have already been addressed in The Eisenhower’s Matrix post and I propose today to drill down a bit more in efficient task scheduling. It is a simple twofold approach:

 

1. Set priorities

A trivial but still important planning prerequisite is to prepare a list of real tasks sorted by priority. They can be daily to-do tasks, personal or professional, project-based activities or longer-term life milestones, depending on the scheduling purpose. Several techniques and practices (GTD, ZTD, etc.) can guide you for that. I invite you to check the Reference page for further insights on the topic.

To help you establishing priorities you should adopt the Eisenhower’s Matrix technique consisting in categorizing the tasks in terms of:

  • urgency: the urgent tasks should obviously be scheduled in due time before becoming problems.
  • importance: what task completion will be profitable?

 

2. Schedule the highest priority first

As introduced by Steven R. Covey in the habit #3 of The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, put first things first! It’s a basic habit everybody should develop as a common sense. It seems trivial said like that but it’s not what we do all the time.

Indeed, procrastination-inclined attitudes often push us to start tackling fun or easy and sometimes wrongly quick activities; those requiring less focus and effort, those not suffering intermittent disconnections because they are just not essential. We may be reluctant to start tasks requiring a minimum of preliminary thinking or seemingly complex and time-consuming… thus boring.
This behavior inevitably drives us to a schedule issue. At some point in time we sadly realize we cannot commit to our planning anymore. Due dates won’t be all observed.

Scheduling is a question of big stones, pebbles and sand

Imagine you have a jar with a well-defined number of stones, pebbles and a finite quantity of sand that should all fit into it. How do you proceed?

Big Stones

If, as shown in figure A, you start pouring the sand and then put higgledy-piggledy stones and pebbles, the result will likely be deceiving.
On the other hand, if you adopt the approach in figure B, you start fitting the big stones and then see how you can place the pebbles. Be convinced that the sand will always find spaces in between all kinds of stones. You got the point?

I just love this metaphor and the insightful message it conveys. The underlying time management technique may significantly impact your personal organization.
I have been applying this basic technique in my daily time management practices for several years and it has drastically and positively influenced my time organization and the way I handle priorities.

Should you feel like sharing your scheduling practises or simply leaving a comment, do not hesitate. That would be great to know more about your habits.

 

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Flik.
Illustration credit: Pascal Genotal.