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PRODUCT.|PHILOSOPHY.|LIFE.

Choosing what to do

I've written a lot about how to set aside time to get things done, how to plan a day, a week, a year, how to manage time for deep work and how to set aside time for slack. All of this assumes that we know what we need to do, we are committed to doing it and it is just a matter of organising our life and daily routines in a way that will help us do those things.

But I haven't written much about how to actually choose the things that we do and when to do what. As I found myself procrastinating on doing certain important things until they began to get out of hand, I looked back at why that was happening.

I have written about the OKR process and the yearly planner (some of you that have bought the tool from me, do let me know how it is going for you), and I have been diligently following that. But that has failed to fill certain gaps which I will now suggest how to.

The OKR process helps a great deal in setting priorities and breaking down goals into smaller tasks that I can then go after. But I wasn't handling these smaller tasks in the best way. I would just dedicate blocks of time during the week when I planned to get these done and try to get these done at those times. A lot of times this worked out well and sometimes it didn't. And some tasks that needed to get done but didn't necessarily align with any of the objectives would never get done. Because I would never plan for them.

I used to think that this was a good thing. Although this helps me focus, it restricts cross pollination of ideas. When I'm not going off and doing something that I had never thought I'd do, it gets harder and harder for me to think outside the box and generate new ideas. And it is dangerous to go down that route for a writer.

So, I recently changed things a little.

I came across this app called Any.do and started using it. Of course, any other list manager helps the same. How I use this is simple.

While I still plan my days and week by setting aside blocks of time for specific kinds of work, the actual things that get done are open pickings.

I now organise everything that I need to do into six lists:

  1. Things that I need to do right away: This has things with looming deadlines and more importantly things that I do not have a dependency on anyone for. This ensures that I run much ahead of deadlines (unless I'm depending on someone).
  2. Things that are important: This list has everything that I would do right now if there was nothing else more pressing. Given how I operate on the first list, I have enough time in the day for things on this list.
  3. Things that I'd like to do: This list usually has things that are high-level ideas that need more thinking and breaking down before they can move into one of the two lists above.
  4. Things that can wait: This list has things that I ought to do but cannot see traction for a month or two most likely because I'm occupied with something else and can't give attention to it for a while.
  5. Wishlist: This list just has items that I dream of, like new book ideas, trip ideas, etc that I have no intention of acting on anytime soon, but I know I might one day.
  6. Waiting: This list has all the items that I'm currently waiting on someone else to act on before I can do anything about it, like a book proposal I've sent to a publisher or an A/B experiment I've started.
The first filter is always to ask if I have to or want to do something. And if the answer is yes, it goes into one of the six lists. 

Every day, I spend the first hour or two on items in the first list. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to spend lesser time here. Then I spend the next 4-5 hours doing things in the second list. All items needing deep work go into this bucket. And this is where I will hope to spend the majority of my time.

Then I have 2-3 hours of open time which I can use for meetings or email or doing anything else that catches my fancy. 

And finally, at the end of the day, I spend time on the other four lists, especially on the 'Waiting' list, and see what items I can pull up into the first or the second list. 

How does this fit with what I used to do previously?

It fits very nicely, actually. As I don't have to predict and prioritize tasks earlier than they are presented to me. 

Hopefully, this fills the open gaps.

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