Friday, September 9, 2016

Time Management: The Power of Five

I like to switch up my time management strategies occasionally. As one self-motivation tool starts to lose its efficacy, I try out a different one, hoping that its sheer novelty will do the trick of getting me back in a productive gear. If, after a month or two, or a week or two, or a day or two, it loses its ability to prod me into action, well, at least I had that month, or week, or day of getting something done.

My current favorite is one I read about somewhere recently, but alas, can't remember where (and couldn't find it through Googling). I'm calling it "The Power of Five." It's remarkably simple. Just put five things on your to-do list for the day. Then do them.

The beauty of the five-item list is that it's vastly less daunting than the usual hundred-item list that leads only to paralysis and despair. It's a fun early morning challenge to decide which five items make the list for each day. Obviously you'll want to start with the single most urgent and/or important task, the one that, if you managed to accomplish it, would in itself give you a glow of satisfaction for the rest of the day. But what should the other four be?

I like my list to have a mix of at-my-desk jobs and errand-type of jobs. Errands, of course, are terribly seductive, as you can get lovely little check marks with relatively little effort; errands can be accomplished somewhat mechanically. So beware of too many easy items on the list. But an errand or two can be a nice way to round out a day of desk sitting. Best of all, for me, is to have one little teensy thing that takes hardly any time at all and yet has been lurking in the corners of my mind for months or years and driving me quietly crazy.

So a couple of my recent lists:

1. Work for an hour groping toward the idea for my next book.
2. Work for an hour getting a rough draft done of a recommendation letter for a former grad student.
3. Write one promised guest blog post.
4. Go buy a surge protector at Home Depot that I've been meaning to get for ages.
5. Have a fun outing with my toddler grandchild.

1. Finally finish my overdue work on a certain task for the Phoenix Award Committee (this would have been in itself TOTALLY enough for one day, but why not strive for five?).
2. Organize my thoughts for an article I've been assigned to write on "birthdays in children's literature."
3. Go to the bank and get the money I need in order to make change for books I may sell (or fail to sell) at a children's literature festival in Denver this weekend.
4. Read at least one and preferably two of the birthday-themed books I had gotten from the library the previous day as one of that day's five tasks.
5. Mend the small tear in a blue top that has been waiting for my attention since last summer: as in summer of 2015.

The five-item list also has the power of getting me to make one extra push at the end of the day if an item on the list remains undone, staring at me reproachfully. After all, I only had to do five things today. Am I really going to wimp out after four? No!

Scrambling around to find one small, doable, but enormously satisfying item to serve as number five has led me, in the week now that I've been using this system, to have a surge protector I should have had five years ago and a newly mended top!

Yay for the Power of Five!

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