Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair, hot wench in flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day. I wasted time and now doth time waste me.
— William Shakespeare
I feel a little bit overwhelmed lately with so many things to do and so little time. Currently there are some big work flow changes going on at the office. At the same time I’m attending IELTS preparation course. We (me and my wife, well mostly my wife) are also doing a major repair and reconstruction of the small apartment we recently bought. Moreover I’m trying to push forward two more projects of mine and to write to this blog as well. Add all those little things that constantly need your attention – like housekeeping, personal finance management, shopping, paying the bills and so on. My hobbies are almost completely suspended – no time for reading blogs or books, no time for movies, irregular physical activity etc. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so I could go to work by bike at least (and at last). This way I’ll save some commuting time, will do some exercising and of course I’ll be doing something I enjoy.
It is easy to feel out of control. And it’s easy to actually get out of control if you don’t have a proper to do system or perhaps exceptional natural organizational abilities. You may choose to be out of control deliberately or to skip tasks entirely until their number drops to the point you don’t need a to do system again… but is that really an option for you? I know there are also some people who really and naturally work well when the final dates are getting closer. But the truth is, most people who claim they work best under pressure actually fall apart, lose sleep, do a sloppy job, become sick, or eventually miss the deadline.
It’s tricky because you have to do a lot of things but research shows that multitasking is bad for your efficiency. “People who multi-task are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time”, says a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. “The time lost switching among tasks increases with the complexity of the tasks, according to the research by David Meyer, psychology professor at the University of Michigan and others”. So eventually it turns out that multitasking is not a good option and in order to do more you should do less.
While my productivity is still far from being at the level I’d like it to be it’s much better than a few years ago. At some point I began to feel that I wasn’t advancing very well. I was switching between various projects sometimes delaying some of them for long periods of time for no good reason. I either kept forgetting some detail or once stopped working on them I was hesitant to start again. And I still felt overwhelmed. I had already tried some project management software like korganizer, planner and Request Tracker, which is actually more of a bug tracking system, but none of them worked for me. So I concluded it’s not only matter of tools but the problem is in my basic understanding of task management or probably my lack of it.
I’ve performed an extensive research and the most sound system I found was David Allen’s GTD. Since then I have devised pretty good set of rules and tools that help me stay on track and be more productive. I’m constantly getting better at it.
I still have those waves of entropy when I don’t feel like I want to be organized and just give into procrastination. It might be fatigue or just laziness – I really can’t tell. Probably the better way around would be to just take a leave when I feel down and generally to draw more clear line between work and play. Work hard, play hard as the saying goes.
My project management system (or should I say my life management system) – I mean the thing that works for me – incorporates bits from many other systems such as GTD methodology by David Alen, some ideas from “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” – the book by Stephen Covey, “Peopleware” – the book by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, the Most Important Tasks idea from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog and many more. I also use some traditional techniques like Mind Mapping, and in particular cases things like CPM, PERT and GANTT have been useful.
And of course knowledge doesn’t do any good without the will and discipline to apply it but anyway a proper to do system makes things easier by broking “stuff” down to a more manageable chunks.
I’m going to cover the specifics of my way to cope with tasks and projects in a series of posts. I hope I’ll further refine, tidy up and improve my system by trying to explain it. I might get some useful comments as well although this blog has very few readers for now.