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Time management and Do your tasks in a different order

-6 Post author: Elo 16 August 2016 11:15PM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/time-management-and-do-your-tasks-in-a-different-order/


I have been trying out some (new for me) time management techniques.  Various people tell me that they do this naturally, but I had to learn it manually.

This one involves:

  1. noticing that you don't really know what you are doing right now.
  2. looking up when and where is the next fixed appointment.
  3. Calculating how long between now and then.
  4. Working out what you want to do before the appointment.
  5. Counting down the rest of the time and work out how much spare time you have.

In a worked example:

  1. It's 8am and I don't really know what I have to do next.
  2. I have a meeting at 12am.
  3. that's 4 hours away
  4. Before that meeting I want to:
    • check facebook
    • check my emails
    • Have breakfast
    • write a post
    • travel to the appointment
    • Shower and dress for the appointment
  5. In time calculations that is:
    • check facebook - unknown
    • check my emails - I could spend 30mins on it.
    • Have breakfast - 15mins
    • write a post - 2 hours
    • Shower and dress for the appointment - 20mins
    • travel to the appointment - 20mins

Total: 3hrs 25mins + facebook time.


In this example; if my facebook time takes 35mins I have literally no wiggle room on my estimates.  But more importantly - if I do my facebook time first - and then fail to stop at 35mins, it means that I will either be running late for the rest of the day OR I will have to cut something short.  The old me would probably cut the last task in the list short.  Which might mean running late to the appointment, and it might mean not finishing writing a post on that day, and leaving it as a draft.

Recently I have been trying out a new factor on this system.  To change the order of the tasks.  Some tasks have fixed lengths in time.  Some tasks are more flexible.  For example, the amount of time it takes to shower and get ready is relatively fixed in time.  However the amount of time it takes to write a post can vary extensively.

With this in mind, I will change the order of the tasks.  Where I used to have a shower last, just as I am rushing out - so that I am fresh clean and ready for a meeting (a great idea if I do say so myself). I will now do something like this:

  • Shower and dress for the appointment - 20mins
  • write a post - 2 hours
  • check my emails - I could spend 30mins on it.
  • Have breakfast - 15mins
  • Shower and dress for the appointment - 20mins
  • travel to the appointment - 20mins
  • check facebook - unknown

Or even:

  • Shower and dress for the appointment - 20mins
  • write a post - 2 hours
  • Have breakfast - 15mins
  • Shower and dress for the appointment - 20mins
  • travel to the appointment - 20mins
  • check my emails - I could spend 30mins on it.
  • check facebook - unknown

Do the fixed tasks all in a row and then do the flexible tasks last.  This means I might have got to my appointment 65 minutes early in the 2nd order, or 35 minutes early in order 1, and worked there on the FB or email.

This also means that if any task has to get cut, truncated or shortened due to a failure of myself to account for time, or some blip happening, like traffic, difficulty finding parking, a blog post taking longer to write or any number of other possibilities - The least important task (of checking facebook) gets cut.  Not one of the more important ones.

Today is not a day to work on cutting down or cutting out of facebook, or sending strategic emails that reduce my email workload.  Today is just a day to do things in a different order.  See how that goes, and make incremental progress on the problem.


Meta: this took 21 minutes to write and I am nearly running late to my next appointment.

Cross posted to lesswrong: 

Comments (5)

Comment author: tim 22 August 2016 05:33:26AM *  0 points [-]

I know it will take me 10 minutes to get gas, 30 minutes to go to the grocery store and some as-of-yet unknown amount of time to deploy a new build of a website to the production server (things might go smoothly, or I might be spending several hours trying to track down some configuration error).

If I can survive until tomorrow without filling my car with gas and getting food at the store, it doesn't make any sense to do those "fixed tasks" first and then risk not having enough time to complete the "flexible" (yet more immediately important) task.

Your examples conflate the idea of a task that takes a variable amount of time and task that isn't particularly important. You need to shower and dress for your appointment whether or not it takes 20 minutes every time. What you're really saying is, "do the most important tasks first then, if you have time, do some less important tasks" - which isn't particularly insightful.

Comment author: Elo 22 August 2016 09:09:58AM -2 points [-]

"do the most important tasks first then, if you have time, do some less important tasks"

yes; this is of crucial importance and even though it might be obvious to you; it is often not obvious to other people. As well - often tasks have vague importance. Where it might be hard to say which one is more important. In cases where the super important website deployment and some less important tasks are on the list, definitely it's easy to see the super-important thing taking precedent. but in cases where you need to choose between groceries, going for a walk, and checking facebook - it might be harder to decide. In that case - consider the task that can most easily be cut off. for example; it's can be harder to cut "a walk" in half because you might be halfway home. But it could be easier to cut groceries in half by only buying some of the groceries and rushing around the store.

Comment author: turchin 18 August 2016 02:37:08PM 0 points [-]

My problem is that I have a lot of interesting and useful ideas of what to do, but I open my computer, and spent there hours before, after which I feel completely exhausted and can't to anything useful. I do not play games, but I read LW, reddit, wiki, news, write comments etc.

Comment author: Elo 20 August 2016 04:38:54PM -2 points [-]

Perhaps doing these tasks [LW, reddit, wiki, news, write comments] in a different order will lead you to be more productive?

If you consider which tasks are forever on the todo list (i.e. news, commenting) and do them last, or do them after the tasks that create ongoing progress in your chosen directions.

I am happy to chat to you over skype or something and see if I can help you orient towards goals more.

Comment author: turchin 20 August 2016 07:37:48PM 0 points [-]

Hi! Thanks to your suggestions. We could chat of fb ))