Death by a Million Paper Cuts
Let’s begin with a crucial observation about productivity: Small tasks gum up the productivity works — breaking up your momentum and making it difficult to concentrate on the big things that actually matter. One method to ease this problem is to declare a productivity-free day. Having one day free of any small tasks aids focus. But that’s just one day. What about the other six during the week?
In this post, I describe another simple tactic that can help you get big things accomplished all week long.
It works as follows…
The Administrative Day
Choose one day a week to do nothing but accomplish small tasks. Your goal should be to finish every obligation for the week that can be accomplished in less than 20 minutes and/or does not require any serious thought. For a college student, these include:
- Phone calls
- Getting your car washed
- Filling out applications
- Sending long or important e-mails
- Paying bills
- Writing blog posts
- Catching up on your online reading
- Handling any administrative work or planning for extracurricular clubs and related obligations
In reality, you will still end up having to do some small tasks on other days. Certain things have to happen on certain days. Other things might pop up after your admin day and require immediate attention. But your goal should be to accomplish as much of this scut work as possible in one big blast.
Real Work is Forbidden
The trade-off that makes the administrative day palatable is that you don’t do any serious work. For a college student, this means no studying or reading or working on problem sets. This seems like a fair trade. It’s easier to knock off a million little chores if you don’t have the threat of five hours in the library later that night looming over your schedule.
Use Mosquito Lists for Other Days
During the other days of the week (with the exception of your productivity-free day) , as mentioned, some small tasks will inevitably pop onto your radar. If you commit to your administrative day, this load should be light — which makes it easy to control. Plan for a 30 – 60 minute “Mosquito Block” on these days to tackle the small amount of admin tasks that might dribble into your schedule. This allows you stay focused and still get things finished.
Batching reduces stress. Using an administrative day takes advantage of the flexibility of the student schedule to seriously batch some of the most stress-provoking work. It’s a simple tactic. But it works.
How do you tackle the small tasks in your schedule?