Updated: Sep 27, 2019
The trusty to-do list is either your friend or foe. But is this the best way to shape-up your work week? Survey says... no.
It’s Monday morning, you switch on your computer on, you chow down your Weetabix [other, more exciting breakfasts are available] and what is the first thing you do? You create a to-do list.
Five minutes into writing the list and it's, “Houston, we have a problem”. The tasks creep up... oh no, you’re suddenly on page 3...or maybe that’s just me? Or perhaps you are a procrastinator and the minutes and hours pass you by without any accomplishments. Yes, I'm talking to you YouTube viewers out there. So how do you fix this weekly issue?
On average you will achieve 41% of your to do list. That’s another 59% swirling around in your head that you need to reconcile every single week. It’s doesn’t have to be this way. If you are a to-do list whizz then feel free to share your tips, but until such times I’ll stick with my back-up plan, Time Blocking.
It might not be the most exciting subject as your colleagues new handbag, but hey, let's block out some time so that you can actually get to Selfridges to buy your own handbag.
What is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is where you take all of the tasks from to-do list and insert them into your calendar. Think of it as booking lots of little meetings with yourself. You are simply living each day by what is in your calendar not what is on your to-do list.
Why should you bother with time-blocking?
1. Get Real - the great thing about time-blocking as you can be more realistic about what you can get done. So, making it home in time, not being late for that catch up with your mate or your boss.
2. Avoid Over-Commitment - Time blocking also prevents you from over-committing, if you have a tendency towards that. If a new opportunity crops up you can agree to it on a realistic and achievable timescale because you can see how the next few weeks are shaping up.
3. Feel Focused - This technique helps you stay focused and approach the week with a little more ease than perhaps you did before. You have less stuff clogging up your thoughts so you can focus on the immediate task ahead. Plus the thought that you only have to work on a challenging task for a block of time gives you a greater sense of productivity.
How do I get started?
For the first week move everything that is on that to-do list of yours into your calendar and schedule time for each task. Now you won't know exactly how long things take so just estimate as best you can. As you get used to the technique you will be better at estimating. If you are still not sold on the idea. Try it for a couple of days - a little experiment shall we say. In case you need it, here is a little template to get you started here. You can time-block on a digital diary, bullet journal or paper diary. It's up to you.
Feeling a little bit profesh... ooh look at you with your fancy calendar. For the second week, let’s take it a bit further. Think about what you want to achieve for the week research, teaching, exercise, fun, life stuff and plan those activities into your diary first. So if you like exercising first thing - put it in. That way you are prioritising yourself first and putting your most important tasks in at the most optimum time. Next, keep adding to your diary as new tasks appear - but the good thing is now you are working to the beat of your own schedule and not someone else's.
I am a firm believer that you can be a successful academic, researcher, student without having to work every single minute of every day. Moreover, I think those of us early in our academic careers need to proactively change the culture of working all hours and as late as possible as if it is some badge of honour in our profession. All work and no play ain't good. I'm not saying you don't have to put in the hard yards. It's just giving more conscious thought as to how you are spending your time. We need to work smarter, not harder.
Let me know how it goes, you can tweet me @drsamlynch.co.uk