I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m (in)famous for making lists and never doing a damned thing on them. I’ve talked before about my Lowest C AcuMax Index profile, and how my hard wiring makes it hard for me to focus on completing one task at a time. It’s not an excuse, and any of you who are Lowest C’s, too, know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you’re probably a High C. Lucky…
Anyway, I spend more than my fair share of time off on tangents, chasing tasks not even on my list, or not finishing the ones I start (of which there are multiple). At the end of days like that, I feel stressed out. I look at the list I started the day with, and when I can’t cross anything off, I feel defeated.
This was a chronic problem for me a few years ago, and one that resurfaces easily if I am not disciplined about implementing other strategies. In honor of this month’s theme of using what we’ve already got at our disposal, I’d like to share my number one tool in my arsenal.
It’s my calendar.
That’s right, my calendar. It probably sounds ridiculous or way too simple, but it’s effective. Rather than making a random list now, I open my calendar on my laptop, and start slotting time for those tasks. I don’t even let myself make a list anymore, if I can avoid it. When I feel the need to start jotting things down so I don’t forget them, I open my calendar to do it. If that’s not possible, I make a list on paper, and then immediately make myself calendar each task.
I’ve talked before about using a Pomodoro timer to help me stay on track, too. I’ve learned to think in terms of how many Pomodoro’s any given task will take. Each session is 25 minutes. I try to schedule single tasks for 25 minutes. If a task is going to take longer, it’s got multiple parts. So I break down those parts and create slots for each one. For someone who struggles to focus for a long period of time, this is immensely helpful. It allows me to see my progress more clearly because at the end of just one 25-minute working session, I’ve gotten something concrete done.
I also schedule an alert for each calendar entry to go off at the time I’m supposed to start it. This helps me if I get lost down a rabbit hole without realizing it. It serves as a way to bring me back to the present, refocus, and get going again. There’s also a very satisfying component to having an alert pop up from my calendar, and already have the item under way. It appeals to my competitive nature. Also to my Highest A side, which wants it to always be MY idea.
There are always mishaps in any given week. I would never suggest that I’ve got the perfect system figured out. Anyone who says they do is lying. One of my early mentors was fond of saying, “Everyone makes mistakes. You’re going to screw up, trust me. The secret to your success lies in how you choose to respond.” And he was right. It applies to a myriad of situations. When I mess up during the week, I immediately look for the first opportunity to fix it. Got off track for an entire afternoon because your dad wound up in the emergency room? No problem! Once he’s clear (and he is), crack open that calendar, find the tasks you didn’t get done that day, and find new slots in the coming days to make them up.
You’re going to mess up managing your time and/or tasks. It’s inevitable. How will you respond? Using your calendar as a powerful tool in your arsenal to help organize your time around the reality of your task list is a great way to start. Good luck out there!