I read time management books the way some others read diet books. Reading them makes me feel like I am actually doing something about time management, even if all I’m doing is reading a book.
I have learned some good strategies, which I’ve written about in my other blog at www.nsdc.org. Recently, however, I’ve been trying out a new strategy, which seems to be working. Since most who read this blog are probably feeling a bit like me—too much to do, too little time—I thought I’d share my new strategy here.
I got this idea by reading Jim Collin’s ideas about leadership. According to Collins, the most outstanding leaders all have one thing in common: they do the hardest to do jobs first each day.
That has not been my approach, I have to say, at all. I dilly dally. I check out my fantasy hockey team. I re-organize my iTunes playlist. I fritter away time. Then I often tackle the most enjoyable tasks, first. Consequently, the more complex and difficult tasks start to pile up and I find myself buried under a pile of tough stuff to do. Of course, the fact that I’m not tackling these thorny problems eats away at my emotional well-being, and I always feel a little drained knowing that I am a little bit (or a lot) behind. Sometimes I feel worn out even before I start.
So I have found a way to fix this problem, which I call Fear Factor Time Management. What I do now is list the challenges I face that are causing me the most stress. That is, what are the challenges that I can do something about that are waking me up at night or are the first things that pop into my mind when I wake up. These are the tasks, that if I complete them, will bring me a little peace of mind.
I list all these tasks, and then prioritize them according to how much better I’ll feel when they are done. Usually the least enjoyable tasks, when done, bring the most peace.
Let me give you an example from last week. At the top of my list were three (of 12) tasks: creating a job description (which was long over due), reworking a scheduling conflict, and writing a project officer about getting some new equipment for a research project. I have no real idea why I wasn’t tackling these tasks, but when I made my Fear-Factor Action List, they ended up on top. Then I listed when I expected to tackle each fear task. Those three I knocked off right away, and truly, I felt a real surge of energy knowing that I had dealt with them. I’ve been sticking with this plan each day, and it is working wonders.
One caution: I’m not suggesting that our time should be totally driven by fear. We need to be intentional about long-range planning, building in time for joyful, life-giving creative activities, which can be accomplished by applying the strategies I’ve already written about at the NSDC blog. But I’ve found that applying the Fear-Factor approach can be very helpful. In fact, now that I’ve written this blog and posted it, I’m feeling a little better about my time management skills as I’ve knocked off another task on my list.