Every couple of months, I reach a point where I have to declare TODO bankruptcy. The items on my TODO list are getting more and more, and I schedule more and more todos each day to get ahead. But obviously, that doesn’t work—quite the opposite. I never manage to get everything I put on the list done on any given day, which frustrates me.
There is an easy fix: prioritization and timeboxing. The most important one of those two is timeboxing. What works best for me is to separate my day into 12 hours (08:00 to 20:00) and assign a task to each hour (some tasks spread across multiple hours). You might think: 12 hours, is this guy crazy? Nope! I also reserve time for breaks, preparing a nice meal, taking a walk, and so on. However, it is important to visualize that there is only so much time in a day. Otherwise, if we can’t get all the planned TODO’s done, it feels like we did not work hard enough. But if we can see clearly on a piece of paper that there is not enough time to do all the things we think we have to do, it becomes evident that we need to prioritize.
So blocks of one hour, you say? But what about tasks that only take a couple of minutes? Easy: for very short tasks (~5 minutes), don’t even timebox them: do them immediately. For slightly longer tasks, we can also squeeze two or three tasks into a single hour. But we should not overdo it. And what do we do in case we finish early? Either take a break (you deserve it!) or start the next hours’ task and get ahead. If an item on our list takes longer than expected, if it is more important than the next item, we can move the next item to tomorrow. If not, stop working on the item and finish it the next day or later if some other tasks do not take as long as we expected.
As a rule of thumb: be generous when assigning work to one-hour blocks. For example, if you assume a task takes 30 minutes, put it in a separate one-hour block. More often than not, work takes longer than we expect, and if not, we can use the free time for taking a break or doing a slightly better job than we had planned.
Again and again, I rediscover timeboxing and, for some reason, stop doing it after a couple of weeks. But yet again, it helped me tremendously feel better about my accomplishments after a busy day instead of feeling miserable because I couldn’t finish all of the (way too many) items on my list.