Sometimes we suddenly have more to do in a day than we originally planned and have time for. Perhaps this is more of a normal state of things than something out of the ordinary — that we have an initial plan, but as more urgent and more prioritized tasks are added throughout the day, our plan goes out the window.
As long as we are still prioritizing systematically and not just doing what appears urgent, then this is not so bad since we can never anticipate and predict who will email us, what will go wrong and need our immediate attention, or what new tasks we could be asked to do during meetings throughout the day.
If not today, then later
When unforeseen things shift our schedule, we have to postpone some of the tasks we intended to do today. We might still have to stick to the deadlines we agreed with others on, but the deadlines we set for ourselves to have something to compare our progress to, is a whole other matter. Way too many times have I randomly set a new deadline for these tasks sometime in the week ahead. I have assumed that ”I will have more time then”, regardless if that will actually be the case or not.
Don’t do that.
I have on these occasions set a new due date for the task without even checking my schedule for that day and how many other tasks that are due then as well.
Doing myself a disservice
The consequence of this slightly thoughtless decision is that when the day in question arrives, my schedule and plan for the day is overwhelming at the beginning of the day already, since it both contains tasks I have promised others I would do, plus a bunch of random things I assigned to do today a week ago when I didn’t have time for them. An ironic ”thanks a lot” to our past self might be in order…
But if this is nothing like how you schedule your days and handle the tasks you end up having to postpone, I sincerely congratulate you. It means that you have avoided falling into at least this structure pitfall. But, if this rings a bell or two, then allow me to draw your attention (and my own) to how we can approach the situation differently.
Try doing this instead
When things do not work out as you planned and you have to postpone tasks you intended to do today for another day, then do this:
- First of all, have a look in your calendar to determine how much space you have at your disposal during the day you are intending to postpone the task for. How many meetings do you already have scheduled that day? How much time do we (probably) have for anything other than meetings? If the day is more or less fully booked already, then we will be wise to choose another day instead.
- Now, have a look at your to-do-list and find out what other tasks that are due that day. Perhaps you have a to-do-list-tool that lets you view both the calendar and to-do-list in one window. If not, I am sure you can think of a way to view them both simultaneously. But if you cannot, never mind, viewing them one at a time is just fine. If the list of tasks due on the particular day you have in mind is extensive as it is, you can either choose another day or you can move one of the tasks due on this day to another date if that task is ”less important” than the tasks you would like to schedule in its place.
- If you get the feeling that the task you are trying to place will take more than a day to complete, this is a clear signal that the task is too big. It is not a to-do-task (which is defined as something that takes less than a day to complete), but a small project, which you will be wise to divide into several smaller parts — into to-do-tasks.
- When you locate a day that is not already full of meetings and for which you have a reasonably small number of other tasks due, then make the task you weren’t able to prioritize today due on this day instead. Chances are now greater that you actually complete it.
Make it in time without stress
If you just randomly select a day when postponing tasks, chances are that you will just have to move them forward again. The whole rescheduling will be an inefficient procedure in which we spend more time and effort than we should on moving, rescheduling and reprioritizing. Let’s use that extra time it takes to shuffle tasks about, to actually do them instead.
Some of us may experience having to move tasks to a later date as a minor failure. Having to frequently reschedule and not be able to go through with our daily plan can in the long-run feel discouraging.
If we therefore spend a few extra seconds re-planning more consciously as suggested in this tip, we are more likely to have time for what we want to do — when we want to do it. Finishing what we intend on time makes us feel successful, and that accomplishment gives a positive, motivating rush.
What’s your way?
How do you ensure that you get it right the first time when estimating the right time for doing a particular task? Perhaps you have a particular trick I haven’t heard of yet, and if you do, I would love for you to share by commenting below.