So far in 2012 my mantra has been “little, and often”.
I decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions, but instead to make changes to the way in which I might do the things I already do. Perhaps not surprisingly, this has had a far more radical impact upon the amount I’ve been able to get done just in the past week or so – and even if I completely fall off the wagon tomorrow, I’ve managed to give myself quite a head start this year.
I started by going back to a system I came up with a couple of years ago: The 30-Day Calendar. I printed a few off, put individual task names at the top of each page and started putting a big X in the appropriate square each time I did the day’s task. However, it occurred to me that there must by now be some way of managing such a system using something a bit more sophisticated than a piece of paper and a sharpie pen.
And of course, there is.
Using an iPhone app called Daily Tracker, I’ve set up a list of tasks that each day I can assign Yes or No to. Of course, since my iPhone is with me at all times, I can periodically check to see what small, daily task I could quickly get done where I am, whatever I’m doing.
Daily Tracker can do all sorts of other things as well – but currently, just “Did I do it, or didn’t I?” will suffice.
There are some big tasks on the list as well smaller ones. Because I’m working on a major research project, as well as writing a couple of books, I need to make sure that I stay on top of each of the individual projects that I’m involved in. The way that I’m doing this is to have each of those projects set up as a single task to be ticked off each day. As long as I spend about an hour (give or take) working on, thinking about, doing something towards or otherwise progressing that particular project, it can have a tick.
So I spend a bit of time each day working on my radio book, writing something for my Music in the Digital Age book, developing my Brazil research project and so on – as well as having a range of smaller tasks that I can just attend to in the gaps throughout the day.
There is something psychologically appealing and inherently productive about small chunks of activity. I find myself often quite reluctant to get started when I have to do a lot of work on a particular project, and this can really slow things down. However, if it’s just an hour then my attitude seems to be “let’s just get this done and out of the way so I can tick it off”.
It’s nice to have variety too.
In total, there are now 20 daily tasks on my list. Some of them take seconds to do, and others, like my writing work, take an hour at a time each. It took a little while (the first week of January, actually) to get into the swing of things and to make sure that all of these tasks – big and small – could fit around a substantial chunk of other work that might take place at my office (classes, meetings and tutorials, for instance) or that might come in via email – without meaning that I get completely overwhelmed and don’t have any time to myself.
In fact, I’ve written some time for myself into the regime. One of my tasks everyday is to sit down and read a book. I’m going to go and do that now.