Tidy Bytes has always been focused on personal data organization, rather than something more general like “productivity” or decidedly different like “time management.” However, now that we’ve gone through two data-heavy months so far with email and photos, you might have felt how challenging it is to make time to do what needs to be done–even if you know what to do! I feel this acutely in myself on a regular basis, and I see others grappling with it all the time.

Therefore, I want to focus on tasks for this 3rd month of Tidy ’24: specifically, how to get even just a little bit better at accomplishing the kinds of things that lead to an organized digital life.

If you need to catch up on anything first, check out the Tidy ’24 Calendar page to see what we’ve covered so far.

Tasks Week 1: Clarify Your Commitments

Do you have enough time to do everything you want to do? (That was a rhetorical question. I already know the answer.)

There are countless books and courses written on time management, and rightly so. It’s a significant challenge that has only worsened as we’ve developed many new technologies and tools that promise to make us more productive and efficient. The lure of being able to do more in less time often drives us into a frenzy of work and makes us feel unproductive if we aren’t using every moment as efficiently as we think we should.

This is a terribly stressful mindset. It also doesn’t work.

Healthy productivity requires first aggressively cutting out what doesn’t matter–or, more accurately, what doesn’t matter enough to spend our limited and precious time and attention on. This leaves us free to focus on what does matter and devote the right amount of time and attention to those things.

This approach is neither original to me nor a new development. But it’s the solid foundation I always return to whenever I feel overwhelmed with my to-do list…which happens far more than I’d like.

My goal for Tasks Month is to help shape your approach to “doing stuff” so that you have better focus and some room to breathe. I want you to end up feeling like you know what’s important, you know how to take the next step towards your goals, and you don’t feel guilty taking half an hour to read something for pleasure before bed sometimes.

I know how it feels to be constantly drawn back to your to-do list every waking moment. It’s horrible. I’m also well acquainted with that “lost” feeling that comes from a lack of focus, even if no looming deadlines are pressing down. You don’t have to live that way! (Neither do I, and reminding myself is half the reason I’m writing this right now.)

With that in mind, let’s get to it and clarify your commitments!

Action Steps:

  1. Consider the past week (or month) and write down the appointments and tasks you’ve accomplished or wish you could have accomplished–no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
  2. Consider the upcoming week (or month) and write down the appointments and tasks you need or want to accomplish–no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
  3. Categorize each item you wrote down as one of three things:
    1. Appointment (activity at a specific time and place, easily put on a calendar)
    2. Task (activity usually without a specific time or place, just needs to be done)
    3. Habit (activity intended to be done regularly, often for self-improvement)
  4. Prioritize each item you wrote down into one of three categories:
    1. Critical (bad things will happen if this doesn’t get done on time or at all)
    2. Normal (generally good to do, but might be okay to postpone or skip)
    3. Trivial (nobody–including you–will care if this doesn’t get done)

Don’t worry about changing anything on your schedule right now. This week is only about taking note of your recent activity and immediate plans.

You can use paper, a simple text editor, Google Docs, your phone, or anything that lets you write and edit simple lists. It’s not essential to put things in chronological order. If you did some activity every day or every week, note that pattern along with the activity. If you did something that you’d rather not be doing–a habit you want to break, for example–feel free to note that as well.

Make sure you include not only what others expect of you but also what you desire and expect of yourself, such as chores, cooking meals, hobbies, reading books…even staying on top of Tidy ’24 newsletters!

As for prioritizing: try to be honest with yourself. We all spend time on unimportant things far more easily than we wish. It’s okay to acknowledge this; becoming aware of areas that need improvement is what gives us the opportunity to improve!

The goal here is to start painting a picture of how you spend your time, both categorically and specifically. This will be instrumental in the next few weeks as we explore whether and how it makes sense to tweak some of your activities–or even consider a major overhaul in any areas.

How Does This Help?

Time is the only resource that we absolutely cannot get more of. We get what we get, however much that is. We can only change how we use that time. Much like what we did last month during the first week dealing with photos, taking stock of your current time commitments is the first step to figuring out how to use that time better than we already are.

Also, beginning to think about your responsibilities in terms of high-level categories (appointment, to-do, habit) helps prime your brain to treat each category uniquely. This makes it easier to decide how to handle new responsibilities most efficiently.

Who Does This Help?

Most of us don’t closely examine how we spend our time–possibly ever, but certainly not regularly. Taking a few minutes now might be the first time you’ve done it. If you live reactively by always following the requirements of others or doing what seems most pressing, or passively by just doing whatever sounds good, this will be an eye-opening exercise.

Who Does This NOT Help?

If you already closely monitor your schedule and your task list, this exercise might not be necessary. However, you might still gain clarity by going through the last two steps, where you specifically categorize and prioritize. You might find that you’re doing some things more (or less) rigidly than you need, or some of what’s taking your time is not that important upon close examination.

Quick Review

For Week 1, your task is to clarify your commitments. Consider the past and next few weeks, and note everything you can about your recent and planned activities. Then, categorize each item as either “appointment,” “task,” or “habit.” Finally, prioritize as either “critical,” “normal,” or “trivial.”

If you have questions about this process or anything related to digital organization, reply here, and I’ll answer as well and as quickly as possible.

Happy data-taming!

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