Recently, I found myself frantically stressing about getting things done. Activities and tasks were piling up and needed to be sorted and prioritised and as I prioritised them, I couldn't help but wonder what other tasks not on my list I was missing out on and whether the tasks on my to-do list were aligned with my goals. Whether I had too many goals to work on at the same time or whether I had too little, and my life was not balanced enough. In short, I think I had been reading too many time management tips.
So, I decided to save you the pain of having to do the same thing by compiling the knowledge I have learned from my comprehensive research. Below you will find a summary of each of the methods I have studied and some concluding thoughts on what those methods have in common and how you can move forward with your own effective system.
Eat That Frog
The first method I studied was Brian Tracy's, outlined in the classic book, Eat That Frog. This is a great approach for those who procrastinate as it really focuses on where you should spend your energy and the things you should do first. It suggests that once you write out your to do list, you should classify each task either A,B or C. A tasks must be done, B tasks should be done and C tasks are anything else. Once you have categorised each task by letter you can then start numbering them according to importance and which you will focus on first. The numbering is the attractive thing for a procrastinator like me, because there is no thinking involved in what your next action is going to be, you just move on step by step.
The next method I studied was that outlined within Steven Coveys 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is a more all encompassing approach that starts by having you understand your mission and values in life and then your goals. It is a top down approach if you will. It also suggests that your goals should be based on understanding all of the various roles you have in life and a balance should be achieved across them. This part of the planning is called leadership and once you have mastered that, you are ready to start the management side. This involves aligning your daily tasks with your goals according to urgency and importance. For this you need to draw a quadrant where the first quarter reflects the tasks that are urgent and important, the second reflects tasks that are important but not urgent, the third reflects tasks that are urgent but not important and the fourth represents tasks that are not urgent and not important. The tasks within the last two quarters should be avoided. The tasks in Q1 should be tackled first, but the tasks in Q2 are most important to your development as these are the ones that will mostly lead to the realisation of your goals.
Get Things Done
Thirdly, I studied David Allens GTD method. This approach seems to throw prioritization out the window and instead suggests that if everything on your list can't be done then it belongs on a different list. So instead of having one list where things are prioritised as in the other systems, you end up with multiple lists categorizing your tasks. You start by dumping out everything you have on your mind onto your first list. This is your inbox. Once you have compiled this, you do any task on it that will only take you two minutes or less. Then you start categorizing the rest. If they can be done straight away they go on your next actions list, if they are bigger tasks with several subtasks, they go on your projects list, if they are projects or tasks you cannot do now, they go on a list called someday, if you need to wait for someone else’s action before you can complete the task, they go on a list called waiting.
Do it Your Way
To summarise, I found that these methods had several things in common. For instance, prioritising by A,B and C in Tracy's method is very similar to the urgent/important Covey method. All three routes ultimately should lead to the same place by suggesting that you focus on a balance between all areas of your life, set goals and categorise your tasks in some way, whether that be through prioritising them and making various lists.
Where I found the advice was lacking was in terms of how many goals is a reasonable number to work on, can you set too many goals at once and so achieve none, what do you do about time wasting activities like perfectionism and procrastination, what tools should you use.
In short there are still many questions left unanswered that I will explore in subsequent posts but I think ultimately, there is no perfect method or tool for you. You can take what seems useful from all the methods but the most important thing is that you trust your system and that you don't just write your list, you actually do the things on it.