Ye Olde
Talbott Blog

Creating Constraints

I have a lot of stuff on my plate. Really. And I’ve recently found a trick that’s made me about 2x as productive while drastically lowering my stress level. It’s not Inbox Zero or a great GTD system (I’ve actually had both of those going consistently for months). It’s also not a four-day work week (though I think it’s a good idea) or getting more sleep (also a good idea!). It’s really simpler than all of those, and it’s something that maybe only works for me, but I thought I’d share just in case it might be a fit for you.

So what is it? Well, I’ve introduced an artificial constraint upon myself when sorting through which tasks to tackle on which day. That filter is really simple: Tuesday and Thursday are my short-term, interrupt driven days. I spend them talking to clients, meeting folks for lunch, writing longer replies to emails, etc. That leaves Monday, Wednesday and Friday for long-term/strategic work, such as pushing out a Terralien website refresh, learning to write a Radiant extension, or working on a background project (such as Spreedly).

Why has this been so helpful? Because all the small, interrupt driven tasks have to get done, but they distract me from focused creative work and leave me always feeling behind. It’s really empowering to get a client email, evaluate it for anything incredibly time-sensitive, and then shove it in to my system to handle tomorrow. Also, on Tuesday and Thursdays it’s much more efficient (and fun!) to have a big pile of small tasks that I can schedule efficiently and knock out quickly.

I think this is really a combination of a few different ideas and techniques I’ve read about, for instance Embracing Constraints (though in this case we’re creating them) and the Poison of Urgency. Now, if you don’t have a good system for capturing what it is you need to do I’m not sure this technique will help you much – it’s really about filtering and scheduling tasks, not creating and tracking them (I’ll try to blog about my capture system sometime soon). But if you do have a pile of tasks and you often wonder if you’re working on the right ones, I encourage you to find some constraints to apply, and to try to group tasks of similar size and distraction level. You might just find yourself getting a lot more done – I know I have!

And just to prove it really helps, here you have the first blog post I’ve written since October of last year! Of course, the real proof will come when I get another post up in a reasonable amount of time…

So what do you think? Sound like something that could be useful to you? Have you tried something similar yourself? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!