Choosing which demands on your time deserve your energy and redirecting yourself towards those tasks is an important time management skill. In our time management classes we recommend a tool for this called the “Brain Dump”.
A Brain Dump is much like it sounds. It is a way to clean out all of the to-dos that have been floating around in your mind, taking your attention from the work at hand.
Start by making a list of everything you need to do, or will need to do over the next month. Do not differentiate between personal and professional tasks or important vs. unimportant. Just write everything out without stopping.
All of the brain hacking techniques, like using colored pencils, writing at strange angles, and using a stack of notecards apply. Just make sure it is as complete a list as possible.
Once everything is out of your head, filter this list with this series of questions. Start at the top of the list and work your way down. Don’t move on until you’ve decided how to filter each task.
Is it actionable?
If a task is not actionable, it will fall into one of three categories.
- Trash- Throw it away and be bothered with it no more.
- Someday- If no action is required now but something may need to be done later, then the task should be stored away from your day to day work. A someday list of tasks retains the idea but prevents it from imposing on whatever is more pressing.
- Reference- If no action is required but the information could potentially be useful in the future, file it as reference.
If an item is actionable, the next step is to decide if it is a project or a task.
Projects generally have more moving parts than tasks. Projects require a series of tasks and may have the complexity to justify project management techniques.
Generally, the first two questions to ask with a project is, “What is the next action required?” and “What resources will I need to do that action?” These questions ferret out the first task in the project and what you will need to do that task.
For example, the first task in the project of installing sprinklers is getting referrals for landscape designers from your friends, and the resource needed will be your Facebook account or your phone. Organize your tasks by the resources needed, so that if you have a spare moment with a smart phone, you can fill that time by calling your friends.
If the item is too simple, short, easy, or common to be a project, then the next question to ask is, “Will it take more than 2 minutes to do?”
If the answer is no, then just do it right away. It doesn’t make sense to spend more time organizing tasks than it takes to do them.
If the answer is yes, it will take more than 2 minutes to do it, then delegate or defer it. Assign the task to the best person to do it, or put it on your task list.
Learn more of these time management techniques in our Time Management Training Class.
We also recommend reading Getting Things Done by David Allen
Please contact us for information on our Time Management training.