Optimize, don't Organize: Part 5

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Start at Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here


5. The better way to prioritize.

The only thing you ever need to be concerned about is what you should be doing right now. Tomorrow’s list doesn’t help you right now. Worry about now now, and later later.

If something can wait, make it wait.

This doesn’t mean procrastinate or avoid things which really need to be done. It means something which has to be done today really should get done today. Priority isn’t always about relative importance. Sometimes the least significant job still needs to be done by COB today. The flip side of this is that if something doesn’t need to be done until next month, leave it till later. Don’t leave it to the last minute, but if you have something that needs doing sooner, do it...even if it just landed on your desk right now.

Clear junk in batches.

Sometimes you accumulate junk jobs. You need to renew your domain names, export your transaction statement, send that email to that guy from school, call back that person who left a message and then you have to take out the bloody bins. Rather than constantly interrupting your day with junk jobs, gather them up and do them in one morning. The danger with junk jobs is that they let you procrastinate. That 10 minute task can easily turn into a 30 minute task when you bookend it with Twittering. Set yourself three hours, and tick off one junk job after another. Once you’re done your list will be half the size and you can get on to doing the real work.

Do big tasks early.

Plenty of people suggest getting “quick wins” out of the way to build up momentum. This works sometimes, but more often than not clearing junk off your list before tackling a big job is just procrastination. Quick wins become more about seeming busy than they are about actually being busy. Worst of all, short tasks are the worst way to get into the zone. Big tasks, whilst hard to start, mean you’ll get more done in a shorter space of time.  You don’t need to be motivated to do the whole job, just motivated enough to start it.  The main reason to get your big tasks out of the way early is because they’re harder to finish when it comes to crunch time. If you’ve done all your big tasks, it'll be easier to find time to do the smaller ones at crunch time. That one big job you’ve got is unlikely to get any easier or any less important. Get it done first before moving on to the easy stuff.

Don’t do things in halves.

We all have to multi-task on occasion, but the reality is that we all suck at it. Dividing your attention between many tasks will make you less efficient overall. By concentrating on one task at a time, you’ll get all of them done a whole lot quicker. It is almost always quicker to knock over three full jobs than it is to complete six half-finished jobs. Working on one task at a time allows you to immerse yourself in that problem and see it through to completion. If you put it down only to have to pick it up again later, you have to relearn, rethink and remember. The less remembering we have to do for unfinished tasks, the more we can use our brains to remember more important things.


Coming up:

6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.