Since I could not predict what my mood would be on a particular day, there was no point in clock based scheduling. From my “before-going-to-bed” post-it notes it was clear that I worked in spurts. Sometimes I was really productive, and sometimes I was not. So the key was to catch my productive moments and make best of them.
To do this, I needed a queue of tasks that I would have handy when I was feeling productive. This queue needed to match my current mood. The categorization of tasks should follow not the priority dictated by the universe, but the state of my mind and body. As per Geeta philosophy, at any point I needed a list of tasks that I would “like” to do at that moment.
When I say “like”, there is a distinction between two types of liking. One type is like liking video games, where your mind craves it at one moment, but feels guilty later. Second type of liking is something that engages your mind and body, heart and soul alike. That may involve painting, playing music, writing, traveling, or something you really enjoy doing.
I was going to make two queues of tasks – Like and dislike. I bought a small notebook, divided it into two sections, listed the tasks I liked in one and the tasks I didn’t in the another. This was the most puritan implementation of the hymn “”, but it did not prove that effective. Because what I liked and disliked changed according to my mood. Also there were some tasks that were absolutely needed to be done on a particular time, no matter whether I liked them or not, like filing taxes.
On further reflection, I noticed that what I really needed was a classification of tasks based on the ease of doing. If I were waiting at doctors office, I could send some quick mails from my iphone, but could not write a blog article. If I were sitting idle on a weekend, I could do some article writing.
I created three lists now. “Bounded”, “Simple” and “Complex”. The bounded list consisted of the tasks that needed to be done on or before a certain deadline. That took care of deadlined tasks and made my rest of the system to free focus on rest of the tasks. In “simple” list, I listed the mails, phone calls, purchases, etc. In “complex” list, I listed tasks like scanning my all photos, organizing my documents.
Very soon I added another queue called “Recurring”. This is where I would list chores, maintenance type of activities. Three additional entries in the recurring list would be “Go through Bounded list”, “Go through Simple list”, and “Go through Complex List” . So as long as visited the “recurring” list often, I would be automatically end up visiting all lists. All I had to do was create a habit of opening my notebook every now and then and go through the “Recurring” list.
Now I had a very simple and solid core of my time management system. “Bounded”, “Simple”, “Complex”, and “Recurring”. At some point I tried to add another list called “Someday”, but soon took it out of my core lists. It is extremely tempting to add more categories and lists, add more stuff like priorities, etc. As I moved from the paper notebook to iPhone “awesome notes” application, it was even more easy and tempting to do so.
But you must remember that the core of your system must be extremely simple, only then it can evolve around your needs. As a human mind, you can juggle only so many queues of thoughts and 4 is just about right. You can quickly browse through all four lists in about 30 seconds and it does not seem overwhelming. Add a fifth one and you will find yourself visiting each of the lists less often and tasks will start piling up.
It does not mean that you cannot add any more queue anywhere. Create an email folder called “Someday” and make a note in “Recurring” section to visit the email folder every now and then. But do not create anything more in your notebook of core lists, or iPhone notes.
So finally, only four categories – “Bounded”, “Simple”, “Complex”, “Recurring” is all you need.
This system has apparently stuck well so far. Now I have habit. Every now and then I go through the lists. If I think of something, I quickly add in simple or complex section. I have also replicated this system in my email, by creating the three folders simple, bounded, complex, and I have an entry in my “Recurring” list of my to check those folders. The important part is that there is one and only one recurring list, and you create a habit of visiting that list as often as you can.
My time managment system does not tell me what to do at any instant. The theme here is that just create a system to feed yourself work when you are ready. The matching of tasks to time is done in real time, which can accomodate your mood changes.
This way, there is room for sponteneity. If I am in mood to get some work done, the lists have a few things I can do. Sometimes I am standing in long queue and I finish four or five things in “Simple” list, like making phone calls. Sometimes I can be found playing video games even when there are things to do in the lists, and yet I don’t feel guilty about it. There is a structure to my time and task management, but it does not constrain me.
Still there are days when I fall out of system. But it is easy to get back in it again. Because there is only one point of entry in the system, the “Recurring” list. So it is easy to get back on track.
Now I feel less stressed, because if things are in list, I know I will get them done someday, and I don’t have to juggle them in my memory. Also, as mentioned above, I feel less guilty. This stress reduction has improved my productivity a bit. In addition, the very fact that I have a system gives me about little more more boost. So overall I am more productive now.
Also I learned that time management system does not solve all problems of my life, and that there is only so much boost possible by managing something better.
But above all these, the real gift has been the realization, that no matter what, the best way to be productive to be where your heart really is. There is no way around. If you don’t like something, you spend a lot of time and energy into making yourself like it. You can be productive in short term in things you don’t like, and you can fool yourself into thinking that somehow you can make this magic work in long term. But then you are only living in denial.
I realized that evantually I have to get to a place in life when all I am doing is the tasks that engage my body and mind and soul, all at once. That’s your hearts call. That’s your inner voice. When you do follow it, its a timeless experience. As if the time stops.
And when the time stops, there is nothing to manage.