GTD Steps: Engage
One of the challenges of managing work in a busy corporate environment is the differing priorities, urgency, and due dates of projects and tasks. The right thing to work on at any given moment is not always clear. Should you respond to that email from your boss? Or take 15 minutes to delegate a task to a team member so they can get started? Or work on that high priority project that isn't due yet but you need to get started on?
With so much going on it's easy to get pulled in multiple directions throughout the day. You might start your day working on the big project. Then you remember the email from your boss so you switch your focus to it. Part way through you suddenly realize if you don't delegate a different important task to your team member, she won't get it done in time, so you shift your attention to that.
You get to the end of the day and feel like you've been busy but don't have much to show for it. You have a number of partially completed tasks that you'll have to pick up again tomorrow. In the meantime, you've added a half-dozen more to your growing to-do list. You feel like you're spinning your wheels but don't know how to get traction and move forward.
How planning your day makes you more productive
Planning your day effectively gives you traction so you can make meaningful progress. It's the most efficient way to actually complete the work you've organized in your GTD system.
How you plan your day has a huge impact on your productivity. Effective planning means deciding up front what to focus on and scheduling those tasks into specific time slots. When you thoughtfully choose what to work on, you're less likely to get pulled off course. And when you schedule tasks into appropriate time slots you're less likely to have partially completed tasks at the end of the day. As you finish each task you know exactly what to work on next, avoiding down time between tasks.
Planning your day effectively enables you to get a lot more done. Over the span of a few weeks it can take you from drowning in tasks to being on top of your work and even ahead of schedule. Once you're caught up you can take a strategic approach to prioritizing your work rather than always rushing to meet deadlines.
Simple steps to plan your day
There are two steps to planning your day effectively.
First, decide which tasks to focus on - The priority of each task and the amount of open space on your schedule influence which ones you choose.
1. Look at your calendar for the day - don't look at the meetings. Look at where you don't have meetings. How much open space do you have available to work on tasks? Is it in large blocks or chopped up?
2. Decide which tasks to focus on - If you follow the GTD system, you already have a list of clear and specific actions to choose from in your list management tool. Use your judgment about importance and urgency to select the best ones to focus on. The open space on your calendar will influence your choices. If you have a lot of open space, it might be a good day to dive into that big project that requires a large block of time. If you have lots of small blocks of open time, it might be a good day to get a bunch of quick administrative tasks done.
3. Prioritize the selected tasks - knowing which tasks are the most critical will help you schedule them into your day, We'll talk about that next. In most cases simply categorizing each task you selected as either A, B or C priority is adequate.
Second, schedule your tasks - assign each task to a specific time slot by entering it in a daily schedule like the Get2Done Daily Planning Tool. Why is this important? Why not just work them in priority order? There are a few reasons scheduling your tasks is critical.
Efficiency - just because a task is the most important, doesn't mean you should do it first. If you do your best thinking in the afternoon, you may be better off doing it then. If it requires an hour to complete but your first three open time slots are each only 30 minutes long, it might be best to schedule it later in the day when you have a full hour available. When scheduling, give your highest priority tasks the best time slots, not necessarily the first time slots.
Deadline = Focus - each time slot has an end. When you schedule tasks into time slots, that end becomes your deadline. Working to meet a deadline forces you to focus. And when you focus you work more quickly and are less likely to get distracted or sidetracked. You also tend to do better work because your full attention is on the task at hand.
Tips for Success
Below are some additional tips to guide you as you schedule your day.
Push yourself - to really supercharge your productivity, try to allocate a little less time to tasks than you think they require. Then challenge yourself to stay on track with your schedule. This makes you push yourself which increases your focus even more. You'll get more done more quickly and the sense of accomplishment will energize you to keep up the pace.
Reward yourself - is there a pet project you want to spend time on? Is there something you've been wanting to research? Is there a skill you've been wanting to develop? Find something you enjoy doing and reward yourself with time to spend on it once you've completed your scheduled tasks. The chance to have time for something you really enjoy will motivate you to work quickly and help you stay focused.
Use checkboxes - there is something mentally and emotionally satisfying about checking off a task instead of just deleting it from your list. Give yourself that little boost by putting a checkbox next to each task you schedule.
Create tomorrow's daily plan at the end of each day - this one is more of a personal preference. When you plan your day the night before, it's easier to relax at home because you know exactly what you need to get done the next day. You walk into work and get started immediately rather than spending the first 30 minutes just checking email and deciding what to work on next.
The Right Tools
The best place to schedule your tasks is in a daily schedule template; either electronic or paper.
The time intervals on your schedule should be small enough to schedule short tasks. For most people, having 15 minute intervals with room in each interval for three tasks works well.
If you need a good scheduling template, consider the Get2Done Daily Planning Tool.
Having a consistent repeatable process for planning your day will help you get more done. You'll be more focused, complete more work and have fewer partially completed tasks weighing on your mind. You'll work with more confidence and feel energized at the end of the day instead of just tired.