Friday, January 18, 2013

My 2013 resolutions - task prioritization and less smartphoning

In the Mistake Bank book, I discuss how to discern patterns of mistakes and how to take action to disrupt those patterns. A good time to reflect on mistake patterns and decide on changes is at year end. Given that it's still January, I thought I'd share my reflections and decisions for the upcoming year.

[Note: I do a daily online journal that captures accomplishments, mistakes, etc., and that is the tool I use for my year-end reflection. Alan Henry at Lifehacker has a nice overview of options in this area. If you'd like an invitation to use the beta version of my tool, email me at mistakebank (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com.]

The first pattern I noticed was that while I accomplished a lot, many of the accomplishments were not in my most important and strategic areas. So, a lot of things got done, but frequently they were not the most important things. While I was reflecting on this, I came across Elizabeth Grace Saunders' piece "How to Allocate Your Time and Effort" on the HBR Blog Network. Saunders' post outlines a simple way to rank to-do items by their importance, and then allocate time in priority order. Simply put, the most important tasks (the "I" or investment tasks) get worked early in the day, and early in the week. The medium tasks ("N" or neutral) are done next, and whatever time is left is for the "O" (optimize) tasks.

For me, "I" tasks include work on the book, strategic work for my main job, and things I need to do for the family. "N" tasks are to-dos for colleagues, tasks that support strategic work, etc. "O" tasks include making travel arrangements, expense reporting, and status reporting.

Saunders' method forces me to spend time on the most important tasks first, and to get less important tasks done in less time. I'm happy with the results so far.

The second pattern I saw was that my stress level was higher than I would like, despite eating healthy, exercising regularly, and taking family time. I soon zeroed in on a culprit: my smartphone.

As I reflected, I saw that the last thing I would do at night before sleep was check the smartphone. I would check it again immediately upon waking. This included emailing, reviewing the RSS reader, Facebook, etc. I would often page through Twitter while I was shaving. The end result of all this engagement was little downtime before sleep, and immediate stimulation on waking, rather than easing into the day. Instead of a calming, sensible routine, I was multitasking, raising my stress level first thing in the morning.

I set a rule. No smartphone after 9pm, and no smartphone in the morning until I went up to the office after breakfast and the kids were at school. I feel better already.

Two changes; those are my resolutions for 2013.

One thing I wanted to point out about these changes. They are both simple and concrete. The first requires adopting a simple method. The second is a straightforward rule. There are few decisions or options. As I state in the book, it's a lot easier to adopt concrete, specific, simple changes, than to try to change a general mindset. That is to say, it's easier to follow a rule like "no smartphone after 9pm," than to succeed with a resolution such as "use the smartphone less."

What are your resolutions this year? How is it going so far?

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