I’ve got it! This came to me on the ride to work this morning. We have systems for executing our tasks. We have Getting Things Done, which tells us to sweep our heads, capture the details, do our work in the right contexts, and keep the flow going. And I always say that what we need over this is a framework, to help direct our thoughts and mindset towards what matters most to us. 7 Habits, for example, tells us to organize and execute around our priorities. Use Covey’s methods to get your priorities straight. Use Allen’s methods to execute properly. It’s perfect in the larger picture stuff.
But what about those tasks where all things are equal? Maybe they all matter equally, all need to be done, and all meet the same context requirements. What to do? What to do?
Game Show Time Management
The part of the game show we’re going to consider is the lightning round. Near the end of various game shows is that spot where the contestants are thrown a bunch of questions, and they have to answer them in rapid succession. The pressure of speed makes for better tension, and that’s why they do it on TV. But here’s the part we should steal.
Abe Lincoln was shot in which theater? …. Pass! Michael Jackson wore his glove on which hand? Right! Abe Lincoln…
Take your list of priorities, and the tasks assigned to a certain context, and put them in your own personal lightning round:
- Copy a new WordPress install
- Build header art – PASS
- Burn new FeedBurner feed
- Edit WordPress install – PASS
- Build MySQL database
- Build header art
Now, there are some ways to implement that technically. You could set the task to recur. (Can you set a task to recur faster than daily? You must, right?). You can throw nag SMS at your cell phone for the ones you are most likely to let slip by passing too many times.
Maybe it’d be great to implement a “3 Pass” rule. You can’t pass more than three times. That way, procrastination-only passing will be shoved away.
Lots of people like to keep tabs on how they do with their tasks. Sometimes, we do this by leaving completed tasks on the list for a while with a strikethrough. What if you threw scoring against it? What if you decided that completing a task with only 1 pass is worth more than completing a task with 2 passes? Would it change your behavior?
I’ve spoken about Time Quilting before, as a means to finding usable time by sewing together scraps of time from various parts of our day. Parents do this well, snagging a few minutes while your son is taking a nap, and another ten minutes while they finish their couscous and lentils. This ties well into the Game Show Time Management premise. If you’ve got 10 minutes to do something, you’ve just set up your own personal Lightning Round right then and there. See how much you can get accomplished in the brief time provided. Pass on things that seem likely to scuttle the ship, and set those for time frames when you can really get at the problem.
I think this will help you develop a better landscape of time. You’ll understand when you consistenly get a few hours uninterrupted. (If you know where this time is, protect it like it’s GOLD, because it’s worth more than that). You’ll also learn how to better instrument your time for those moments that used to be for throw-away tasks. Reading a magazine is a great way to unwind, and occasionally provides you with some insights, but what if you converted that time into four more things you said you wanted to get done, but that were too insignificant to schedule?
Put This Into Action
Take the following concepts and try overlaying your current productivity system for a week:
- In same context situations, rapid-fire review your tasks as a lightning round, and see which you choose to execute. Count up passes.
- When executing a task and completing it, mark 0, 1, 2 for how many times you Passed before you executed it. If there’s a 3, review.
- Turn 20 minute scraps of time into lightning rounds. See how many tasks you accomplish. (Similar to Merlin’s dash concept).
- Scoring: Give yourself 10 points for every task completed at 0, 5 points for 1, and 3 points for 2. Subtract 10 for anomalies (more than 3 passes).
- At your weekly review, consider how you used your Lightning Rounds, consider your scoring, and see if this changes how you execute your priorities.
This is just a premise. I haven’t tried it yet myself (but plan to launch a trial starting Monday). I’d love your feedback. Please send in comments on the premise as you understand it, and then, as things move forward, please give feedback (I’ll do a check-in post in about a week) on if it worked for you, or what side-effects you encoutered.
It might prove to be neat.
–Chris Brogan needs a perfect blend of simple interface but flexible-for-multitaskers web-based time/project/task software, keyboard heavy preferred. Have a suggestion? Let him know. Chris writes at [chrisbrogan.com] and is launching an audio and video podcasting production company at Grasshopper New Media.