Semester Goals and Task Management

This past week marked the first of Semester 1, 2011 of my Masters course in Library and Information Science at Queensland University of Technology. This is my third semester, completing the course part time. The main issue I’ve had in the past is expecting too much from myself. Since last semester I’ve realised I can’t do everything. Learning will continue far beyond my formal studies. I can only do what I can. 

A few weeks ago a member of my PLN on Twitter sent me a fabulous link to a blog post entitled “30 Habits that will Change your Life”. I highly recommend the read, for LIS students and established professionals alike. The habits outlined in the post have inspired me to implement Goals (& Rules) for my semester ahead. (I’ve since subscribed to the blog feed – Freestyle Mind.)

  • Maintain 7am – 3pm work days (The last few weeks I’ve managed 7.30am – 3.30pm. This is ok as I get home by 4pm)
  • Go to bed at 9.30pm during the week
  • Exercise for 30 minutes at least every second day
  • Check my email inbox only twice per day
  • One day off per week

By keeping an ‘early start, early finish’ at work (and I’m very grateful my hours are flexible) I can fit in two to three hours of study before my partner is due home. I have a rowing machine and I’ve booked in my skeletal/postural assessment to begin Pilates classes. These goals/rules are completely achievable.

Task Management

I can maximise outcomes by organising and prioritising tasks. Effective task management has always been a priority for me and it plays a key role in achieving productivity goals. I say “task management” instead of “time management” because by managing tasks efficiently and decisively, results in the best use of my time. In October, I stumbled across a wonderful web/desktop application called EasyTask. Then in December, discovered the book (and mastermind) behind the “Getting Things Done” methodologies and practices. A key tip I’ve gained from the book is to identify where all my ‘in trays’ were. Where do I place my thoughts and ideas? Where do I place my incoming mail to be processed? Where do I receive email? Save journal articles?

The following are a few tips I’ve incorporated into my day-to-day productivity: –  

Tip #1 Identify where all your inputs are gathered.

I have four email inboxes – Gmail, Work, Uni and Hotmail (which I’m trying to get rid of); Evernote for recording thoughts and ideas; Diigo for bookmarking; a physical tray for my mail; Google Reader for feeds; GoodReader app for documents opened on my iPhone. (I think I’m still working on this one)

Tip #2 Minimise the number of ‘in trays’.

By minimising the number of places you have to look for inputs to process, the more efficient you are at capturing everything you need to pay attention to and decide next actions. Make your applications work for you. For example, I’ve created an RSS feed from my Instapaper “Unread” folder to deliver straight to my Google Reader – one less ‘in tray’ I have to check.

Tip #3 Review and reassess your tasks and due dates regularly.

I was reminded of this by another member of my PLN. I have a habit of entering a task, setting a due date and priority level and expect I’ll have time to complete it on that day. This isn’t always possible, so I’ve tried limiting the number of tasks I set for myself per day and implement a weekly review of my upcoming tasks for the week. Pushing back due dates should not feel like failure.

Tip #4 Empty your ‘in trays’ on a regular basis. Action all ‘two minute’ tasks straight away. Any tasks which will take more than this, input into a task management application or diary.

Another valuable lesson from the “Getting Things Done” book. My Gmail inbox remains at zero. Fantastic, doesn’t feel so overwelming.

Tip #5 Never, ever place something back into your ‘in tray’.

If you’re undecided about what to do about an input, don’t place it back in the tray. You have to think about and process that item again at a later date. Time wasted right there.

Finally, I can’t put in all the hard work without rewards. Lucky for me football season starts this month. One motivator for me is attending Sunday afternoon games. If I can accomplish a reasonable amount of work before lunchtime Sunday, I allow myself the treat and go to a game. I guess we all have to find motivators for ourselves. Whether it be a little retail therapy, a hair cut, cooking, crafting, chilling out with friends or a book, whatever it may be.

Don’t forget your ‘me’ time.

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