Scheduling Time Versus Scheduling Tasks
I never feel like I'm being as productive as I'd like. Every few years I try to do something about it, usually starting with reading a book or two on time management. Of late Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen has seemed like the book to read. I read it a year or two ago, and internalized a lot of its methodology. One thing about it, though, has never quite worked for me: I like to schedule blocks of time for certain kinds of activities.
In GTD one doesn't schedule a block of time, except for things that are actually scheduled. That is, you might schedule watching "Heros" at 8:00 CDT on Monday, because that's when it's on. Instead of scheduling a block of time to work on some project, though, you maintain a list of "next actions" for all the things you need to get done. When you're at a point where you could do something, you look on the list, select the next thing to work on, and then do that.
Now, this makes sense at many levels:
- It minimizes context switches--you just work to completion in each "next action." (Of course, this depends on your "next action" being appropriately sized, but at least you're not switching to something else just because your scheduled block of time has expired.)
- You're selecting the next "next action" to do, at the point when you have the maximum amount of information to use in selecting the item--how much time you have, how tired you are, what you feel like doing, whether some piece of equipment is available, etc. (Much of that information is not available hours or days earlier when you might be blocking out time on your schedule.)
- If you've already decided on what the "next action" is, you're less likely to be paralyzed by having a whole project's worth of work to do and no idea where to start. (Of course you do still have to decide what the next action is, but separating the deciding from the doing seems to help some.)
Despite all that, I find there are certain kinds of activities where I'm happier blocking out chunks of time to just "work on" some project. In particular, I feel this way about working on my novel. Maybe it would be better to figure out what the "next action" should be, but I just find the whole writing process a bit too organic for me to easily plan next actions until I'm in the midst of them.
Of course, it's possible to do both. There's no reason I can't schedule a 3-hour block of time each morning to work on my novel while managing my other tasks on the basis of "next actions" (which is what I'm doing now), but I feel like I might be missing out on some productivity enhancement.
(I should mention that there's a lot more to Getting Things Done than just "next actions," and most of the rest of it works for me like a charm. If you wish you could be more productive, and aren't already familiar with GTD, check out David Allen's site and consider getting the book.)
Any Wise Bread readers out there doing the GTD thing? Any of you who also schedule blocks of time to "work on" stuff, despite the advice in GTD? Most particularly, any of you who feel the same draw to do so that I do, but have figured out some effective way to channel that inclination into "next actions" and think you're the better for it? If you've got any thoughts on the matter, I'd be pleased to read about it in the comments below.