Doin Thangs

I do a lot of things. I also have some major focus issues. This combination can lead to a lot of overwhelming stress from procrastination, and for a long time I lived bouncing from one task to the other as due dates arrived.

Last semester I finally discovered how to overcome these issues by forming small habits from the Zen to Done system. The most significant tip was that time management doesn’t involve rigid scheduling. Instead, time management is just smart planning. By focusing each week around a few “big rocks” and each day around a few “most important things” (MITs), my workload suddenly became manageable.

One of the key ingredients to following through with this system is tracking what we do in a day. It’s easy to look back on your week and say “I didn’t get anything done” without realizing the little things that were really accomplished. Joe’s Goals is a simple productivity website to help record progress. You create categories for what you do in a day (work, homework, reading, cooking, housekeeping, socializing, exercising, etc…) and when you spend a chunk of time working on that goal you just click on the box to add a checkmark.

For me, a check represents about 2 hours of work – a math problem set, a lab report, a 20-mile bike ride, 2 hours of chillaxing, grocery shopping, doing laundry… I’ve discovered that I can accomplish 4-6 things in a typical day. Any less than 4 and I’ve been wasting time, any more than 6 and I’ll burn out. In the morning I make a quick list of the five things I’m going to accomplish, and then do them. By recognizing I only have 5 slots in a given day I can actually accomplish everything in a week through good time management. If I have more things to do in a week than I have space for, I can prioritize and delegate before they become an issue, mitigating stress.

For inspiration, here are my categories:

  • homework (math and science homework)
  • reading (humanities homework)
  • work-work (consulting)
  • research
  • cook
  • house (cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.)
  • social
  • bike
  • self (journaling, reflection, etc.)

I also maintain 3 LogBooks:

  • wake (time I get out of bed)
  • what I did (note on what I did to earn each check)
  • sleep (time I go to bed)

We can also have negative categories to discourage our vices – mine is for skipping class. Each time I consider skipping the negative check makes me consider whether I am skipping out of laziness or because I really have something else to do to offset that check.

It’s a simple, elegant solution. I use Joe’s Goals because most of my work is online, but you can use the same system with old-school pen and paper, as Ben Franklin did. I still struggle with procrastination, and occassionally I get overloaded, but by adopting this system I’ve learned how to get things done.

4 Comments

  1. Carlo Said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 6:40 am

    Looks like a good system. On the other hand, I think you tend to spend more time facilitating your productivity than actually being productive… ^__^

  2. Mitch Said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

    It was really weird to read about all these GTD systems on lifehacker etc. and not know anyone who’s actually tried using one. I think I’ll definitely give this a shot this summer.

  3. Wesley Said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

    I’ve been doing the four to six things plan for a couple weeks now on my own, I didn’t know it Was a Thing. I wrote out things I should try and do every day on post-its and I have them all in a stack and try and accomplish at least five a day, sometimes as many as seven. However, some of mine are relative cop-outs, like “Listen to New Music,” so a lot of times I can accomplish two or three at the same time, like yesterday when I both read, listened, and worked out. Three down easy in an hour and a half.

    It also reminds me of the Hugh Grant character’s system in About a Boy. I haven’t read the book yet, but I like the movie, which I’m not at all ashamed about.

  4. Patricia Signe White Said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    you're silly