Be prepared: certain activities require total focus, driving for example. Use public transportation where possible and utilize the time to read or make notes. Various electronic devices, laptops, notebooks, even an ebook reader, allow us to fill in ‘dead-time’ (as well as alleviating the stress and frustrations associated with commuting). Keep a small notebook and pen with you so that you can jot down ideas when it is inappropriate to realize them.
No timeframe: we have been sold on the concept of time and motion studies, however most tasks should not be squeezed into a specific time frame. The decision to do task B from 10 to 11:30 am necessitates preparation and causes stress. Let us say that Task B is an article that you are writing. At 10 am we have to ensure that all necessary materials are to hand, any pertinent notes are available and, most importantly, we have to shift our mental processes from what we were doing before to
the task at hand. Got your coffee? Sitting comfortably? Then we can begin, at 10:10 if you are lucky. Let’s hope the phone doesn’t ring! By 11:15 you are feeling the pressure. Did you achieve what you expected to? Probably not as you only really have an hour to do what you had calculated would take an hour and a half (not to mention that we are all very optimistic about how long certain tasks take). No matter how well the article is progressing, words tumbling from your pen, fingers flying across the keyboard etc., once you notice that you only have 15 minutes left to complete the task then the creative juices evaporate and you start to think about Task C. The time and motion studies suggest an average; a 90 minute task may be 60 minutes under ideal conditions and 2 hours under less conducive circumstances. Finally,inspiration comes at the least expected of times, the middle of the night, in the shower, or generally when we are unable to jot down the stroke of genius. If you are tired then rest; if inspired then realize it. Go with the flow.
Lists: lists are excellent, without them we might remember the most important task of the day and, by the time of it’s completion, have forgotten all the lesser ones. Be sure to adopt a positive attitude to your tasks.
A list is a guide, it is not imperative that you complete every item on the list; but do gain satisfaction, a mental pat on the back, for what you do achieve. Put a couple of uplifting tasks on your list e.g. learn something new, observe something of beauty. Do not berate yourself for your failures but award kudos for the successes; you will find that the achievements increase.
In a nutshell, you should set yourself a number of tasks each day and, as the opportunity arises, you should fulfill them. Ideas will come to you and new tasks may present themselves. Your brain is organizing for you. Again, relax and trust your intuitive judgement, you’ll get a lot more done!
‘She took notes while riding in her carriage,kept up running conversations while dictating letters, and worked at her books no matter where she happened to be or what was going on. Madame de Stael, always concentrated, never at rest, was endowed with a brain that could in an instant, adjust itself to whatever demanded her attention.’
From J.Christopher Herold’s excellent biography of Madame de Stael, Mistress to an Age, Time-Life Books, 1964.