Today being a Monday I thought I might reinvent my life in some way – you know, just to keep on top of things a little bit. No, seriously, I’ve felt my work (research, teaching preparation) veer a little drunkenly off course of late, so it seems important to figure out ways to get them back on track.
I’ve always found ye olde to-do list pretty useful, and I’m certainly back into using those (TaskMate, for those keeping score – it has the benefit of being extremely simple). Still, having a big list of to-dos (and some semblance of “next action” doability ala Getting Things Done) doesn’t actually solve all of my issues with, uh, getting things done.
The key problem I have, even when I’m more or less in the know on the tasks I have, is that I futz. I know I’m not alone. My potential work hour is usually really about 40 minutes or so because I insist on reading the 5 new feeds in Google Reader, or on looking at my email, or making a cup of tea, or whatever else isn’t the work I’m working on. Pretty boring, typical problem, but when I think of the time I’ve started losing it starts feeling a bit debilitating.
So today I went back to another one of those tried-and-true techniques: recording what I actually do. Amazing. I had my computer announce the time every quarter hour and wrote (honestly) what I’d done for each one. Now, obviously that means that for once I actually know what I spent my time on, and that’s all well and good. But the real benefit is almost entirely the hyper-awareness that this introduces about my time. In other words, the fact I’m going to be writing down the things I did for a quarter hour makes me want to make sure I spend the quarter hour on what I was actually meaning to do. It raises my defenses against distractions by making them explicit.
So, yay for that. It does work, even though it could be a bit of a soul-grinding experience for many.