Time management is sometimes one of my strengths and sometimes one of my weaknesses. There are days, rarely Mondays, that I rock that to-do list and days where I wonder if I will die the “death of a thousand tasks”. I’ve discovered an interesting trait about myself. When my calendar is full, I manage my time well. When I have an afternoon or dare I say a day when nothing is scheduled, I look up at the end of the day and wonder how I got only 20% of my to-do list done. I call this my infinite-time black hole. This black hole is different from the Twitter/Pinterest/Facebook/Insta black hole. It’s just that when I have “infinite time”, I get minimal done. For those days where I have chunks of open time, I’ve developed a method of reverse prioritizing that has allowed me to own these days as much as the “busy” ones.
As an example, consider my schedule today.
- Lunch with JB 12-2 (yes, we need 2 hours)
- Grocery order pickup 2ish
- Group study – 1 hr before dinner
My most pressing items to clear out today were
- Finalizing the draft of a conference abstract
- Revising the appendix of a paper
These were both due by Tuesday and somewhat open-ended. Other items included picking up the dog’s prescription, calling my mom, sending emails, and writing a python script.
What the heck happened to my day?
Before I understood the physics of my infinite-time black hole, I would have sat down at my desk and started working my way through the most pressing items. My digital assistant (DA) would have reminded me about lunch. I would have returned from lunch to work through the rest of the important items, stressed about the pending Tuesday deadline. I would have slammed into the end of the day with (hopefully) both high priority items completed and none of the less critical ones done. The pharmacy would be closed. I would spend my time after dinner trying to clear out the items that didn’t require business hours, and then push the rest off to the next day (sorry mom).
Owning my day like a boss
In my infinite-time black hole enlightened state, I sat down this morning with my calendar during my “present but not
Doing this “reverse priority” time blocking set me up to succeed in two important ways. First, it pushed me out of the infinite-time black hole and into the “time management queen zone”. It enforced a schedule on my open time. Second, it prioritized small things first, which is as important as getting out of the infinite-time black hole. By reverse prioritizing, the less critical items don’t build up, ultimately causing my “death by a thousand tasks” panic moment. Today, I got both high priority items done and about 80% of the small things (including calling mom). There was a lot less to roll into the next day, and that’s always a win.