Getting things done by letting things go

One of the things I find most difficult (in both my personal and professional life) is letting go of projects that I have committed to, but sometimes it can be the best way to make progress, however painful it might be. I’ve had an exceptionally busy Semester at work, and an additional source of worry and stress outside of work has been piling on even more pressure. On top of all that, I had decided to apply for a grant that had a deadline that fell before Christmas.

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Achievement file unlocked

If you’re anything like me, when the time comes to update your CV or convince those above you that you do actually do some stuff, your mind goes frighteningly blank. “I know”, you think to yourself, “that I’ve done something this year, but what was it?“. Even if you do manage to remember a few things, you have to rummage around in your hard drive or filing cabinet to retrieve the details of that talk you gave or that cool thing you did.

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One Level At A Time

I’m writing a theoretical paper for work at the moment with some colleagues, and am having a terrible time with it. The deadline is looming up as we speak, but because I’ve been busy with other things, and the topic is huge and difficult to get to grips with, I have been making very slow progress on it. One of the colleagues I am writing it with suggested that I try tackling it using a particular technique.

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Do The Hard Thing First

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I was reminded again today of the most useful productivity lesson I’ve ever learned. It’s this: do the hard thing (or things) first. There’s always something on your todo list that you really don’t want to do. It’s difficult, it requires thought or negotiation, or it requires you to confront something you’d rather not address, thank you very much. It sits there, mocking you. What tends to happen is that you put it off, and do something on your list that’s easier.

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Pomodoros and Tinderbox Daybook revisited

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I've been using Tinderbox for a while as a daybook and also as a kind of task timer to help me track what I spend my time on at work (purely for my own interest and education rather than for billing purposes, as many people do). However since I wrote those articles, I've altered the file a bit, and also discovered the Pomodoro Technique, which I'm finding really helpful, so I thought I'd write a bit about how I use the two together.

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Logging time

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I suppose this is something of a LazyWeb request: for various reasons that I'll explain below, I want an easy way to record, log and report on my activity at work. Before I write something myself, does anyone know of a good tool for doing this? I'd consider a standard Mac application, Unix command line utility, or even an online application at a pinch. There are loads of invoicing or billing applications out there, but that's not quite what I'm looking for.

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Scheduling

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I've had one of those weeks when -- out of nowhere -- you get a sudden flurry of new tasks to do, which all have due dates for the end of this week, and all of which are important. Normally, I don't schedule my day, or micro-manage tasks. I schedule what tends to be known as the 'hard landscape' (meetings, lectures, tutorials etc.), but just fit other tasks into the gaps left.

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Parking on a downhill slope

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I think that I first learned of the idea of 'parking on a downhill slope' via 43folders. Merlin passed on the advice from Jeffrey Windsor (which he, in turn, got from a book on finishing your dissertation) that you should try to end the day's work by setting out very clearly where you need to start the next day. I've tried to follow that advice, but I don't do it as often as I should.

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Scoring points

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The idea of David Seah's system is to guide you gently into doing more things that 'grow your business' (or career) each week, by awarding you more points for doing those important tasks, rather than the piffling drudgery that you have to do every day (though you get a small number of points for those too). Being aimed at geeks, the reward is to pencil in a little bubble next to the appropriate point score for each day, then count up your total points for the week.

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Stuck at 10

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My GTD application Tracks has a little red badge at the top left of each page displaying how many uncompleted actions are in the list, and over the past few weeks, I've been keeping an eye on that number. Of course, everyone is likely to differ in the number of things that they have on their list; not only because people are differently busy, but also because everyone has a different level of granularity for the tasks they enter.

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