There’s an old story about a man chasing after a bus as it left the station only to return exhausted. A young lad watching his failed effort told him, “Too bad, mister. You should have run faster.” The man replied, panting, “No son. I should have left home sooner.”
Many of us may also be guilty of wasting our time and energy by not planning ahead. This is evident by the number of times we have to play “catch-up” both at work and at home. We usually know in advance what has to be done; but we leave it until the last minute. In fact it has been said that the last minute is the most important part of any day because so much work gets done then. Unfortunately other things invariably crop up and we end up starting those tasks, projects or activities too late.
The day goes so much easier when you keep on top of your work. Mark Forster, in his book “Secrets of Productive People” claims that “Being on top of your work gives you a great sense of energy and flow. Being behind causes stress and results in exhaustion, burnout and depression.”
“Just-in-time” might be a great strategy for inventory control, but not for workload. You should keep ahead of the game as much as possible. You might do this by listing all your repetitive weekly or monthly activities and working on them whenever you have a few spare minutes.
For example I publish 5 tweets every Monday, a blog article weekly, and a newsletter bi-monthly. If I try to write 5 tweets on a specific topic on the day it is due, invariably they don’t get out until later in the week and are usually not that good. In addition I am rushed, under stress, and stealing time from other projects. So I write tweets whenever I get the opportunity and usually maintaun enough for 4 or 5 weeks. This is a real life-saver when I have to travel unexpectedly or get involved in an important project or simply don’t feel in a creative mood. I do the same with the other repetitive projects.
It’s a great feeling when you are ahead of the game instead of having to play catch-up. If you’re a student you can keep a chapter or two ahead of the class. If you’re a teacher you can keep a lesson or two ahead. If you take minutes at meetings you can even prepare minutes in advance based on the agenda and leave blanks for specifics. And so on.
It’s surprising how much idle time we all have – whether waiting for a bus, sitting in a dentist’s waiting room or suffering through lengthy TV commercials. Using the minutes will save hours – and a lot of frustration – once you make it a habit.
Habits and routines also require less energy, leaving plenty for creativity, decision-making, and the mental demands of your significant projects and tasks. They also reduce the tendency to procrastinate since they require little or no thought. Although most people may think routines bring boredom, they can actually bring richness to the mundane, while saving time and mental energy to invest in higher pursuits.
Developing the “Do it now” habit also helps you keep on top of your work. This doesn’t mean you should interrupt yourself from an important project or task in order to follow-through on some other idea that pops into your mind. In that case you would simply jot down the idea and carry on with the task at hand. But there are dozens of occasions when you think of something that has to be done and you assume you will remember it later. One of the biggest reasons we are continually playing catch-up is that we overestimate our ability to remember. If you walk into your office and realize you hadn’t submitted the week’s expense account yet, do it now. Otherwise it may slip your mind again and you’ll be playing catch-up the following week.
Doing the little things right away will not interfere with your priority tasks if you allow extra time for those major tasks and projects when you schedule time for them in your planner. If you are not scheduling time for the important tasks in your planner already, you should start doing so. Working from a “To Do” list only is another reason people are always playing catch-up.
Finally, if you continually take on more work in a day than you can possibly get done in a day, you will be forever behind in your work. Remember that tomorrow has only the same number of hours as today. Say “no” to the unnecessary in order to have time for the essential.
There is an old saying, “Success is in the little things.” This is certainly true if you want to keep on top of your work.