Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How To Be More Balanced And Responsive With Tasks

Today, I woke up with this crazy idea. What would happen if I were to spend shorter amounts of time doing a number of different things. In the health and fitness area, we call this a circuit, but could it work for managing tasks?

How Does It Work?
My current process involves a calendar and a time budget. Each day, I block off a period of time to focus on communication, meetings, work, and other important tasks. While this works, I find that it can be a little rigid.

Throughout a normal day, people will call or email me and expect a prompt response. For me, this means the next morning. For everyone else, this means within the next hour. If composing email is not in my schedule, the recipient will have to wait until the next day.

"Success, I believe, is built on things we do, not on things we hope to achieve."

At first glance, this is great for controlling distractions, but it does little for responsiveness.

The idea I came up with this morning was to use shorter intervals to cycle through daily tasks. Instead of spending all 60 minutes at one time to talk on the phone or compose email (say, from 7 - 8am), I can cut up that hour into smaller chunks of time, which can then be disbursed through the remainder of the day.

Having tested this concept, the following section captures my initial reaction and recommended next steps.

More responsive: The first thing of note was the speed by which I was able to address tasks. Instead of waiting 24 hours to address a concern, I only had to wait until the cycle repeated itself. Depending upon the number of tasks, it could mean a wait of 30 to 40 minutes.

Increased visibility: Some of the tasks include managing social networks. Prior to this new process, I would check my various networks once or twice a day. Today, it felt like I was on all the time. This gave me an opportunity to speak with a variety of people I might have missed. The benefit as I see it is an increased visibility in both the office and online.

Not enough time: Today, I gave myself about 5 minutes per task. It didn't take long to realize that five minutes wasn't enough to get into the groove and complete anything. By the time I started, it was time to move on to the next task. In hindsight, I would probably give myself between 10 and 15 minutes per task.

Too hectic: Again, at 5 minutes per task, I found myself jumping around in somewhat of a scatterbrained approach. At times, I didn't know what was next on the agenda. By the end of the day, I just addressed what was yelling the loudest. Unfortunately, that's not a very proactive approach to task management.

Not balanced enough: Spent too much time on social networking, which affected my time in other areas. Instead of grouping Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue, YouTube, and the like into a similar category, I ended up spending 5 minutes in each network. Clearly, this was unfair because I ultimately spent 30 minutes on networking and only 5 minutes in other areas.

Moving Forward...
...I will increase the alloted time from 5 to 15 minutes. This will allow me time to adjust to the task, engage, and let it go.

...I will group similar tasks into larger categories (Blog, Communication, Dissertation, and Work). With each 15 minute interval, I will move between one of the four areas. During the course of an hour, I would have touched all major tasks on my list.

...I will work from my task list to ensure that I am completing the highest priority items during the alloted period.

Additional Thoughts
Unfortunately, the circuit concept doesn't work for everything. Meetings, commute, meals, and similar actions are better suited for larger time blocks.

For anyone who has been around the time management block, breaking tasks down into smaller chucks is not new. In fact, I am aware of the egg timer approach and writing the dissertation in only 15 minutes per day. What I think is different about the circuit concept is that it continues all day long, minus the scheduled blocks of time.

Mentally, 15 minutes on anything is pretty easy to do. It is easy enough that even a career procrastinator like myself can use it.

At the end of the day, when I am asked what I have completed, I can easily review my many smaller tasks and say, "I did it!" Success, I believe, is built on things we do, not on things we hope to achieve. The difference is ACTION. Now, get out there and change the world 15 minutes at a time.

What do you think? Would something like this work for you? Let talk about it in the comment section below.

Photo credit: by SFB579


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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