Why Urgent Is Easy But Planning Is Hard

Time Management UrgentWhen you stare at your to-do list, you subconsciously look for three things:

Tasks that are easy
Tasks that are urgent and
Tasks that are important.

When only one task stands out as fitting all of those categories, deciding what to do first is a no-brainer. On the other hand, when everything feels urgent, we have a stressful problem I like to call “Priority Paralysis,” but what about when nothing feels urgent? Here are three reasons an urgent-free to-do list can be a problem and what to do about it!

1. We don’t know what to do first

Urgent vs non-urgent tasks make prioritizing easy, but if “urgent” is the only thing you look for when deciding which task to tackle, what happens when nothing presents an urgent deadline? You don’t know what to do first! This is why The Time Diet is based on categorizing. Pick a Meat task (difficult) Vegetable task (easy) and Dessert task (fun) to focus on during your day. That gives you some parameters to help structure your schedule in a way that ensures you’ll get ahead on your non-urgent tasks while maintaining balance in your day.

2. We’re likely to procrastinate

Another problem with an urgent-free to-do list is that we’re tempted to do nothing! It’s easy to procrastinate when none of our deadlines are urgent at the moment. Remember, if you only deal with tasks when they are urgent, that ensures that you’ll always be faced with a last minute stressful time crunch. Try scheduling “start dates” in your calendar for each “due date.” It’s easy to say we’ll begin something later, but a start date defines exactly when “later” is.

3. We waste time

When we aren’t up against the pressure of an urgent deadline, it’s easy to allow Time Killers to distract us. When people thrive on the pressure of a deadline, it’s often because there is  less time to be distracted and it forces them to focus and work more efficiently. This concept is called Parkinson’s Law, which says that work expands to fill the time we give it. Try removing Time Killers (smartphone, Facebook, etc…) even while you complete non-urgent work so you finish faster.

A non-urgent to-do list is definitely something to celebrate, but not ignore. You’ll never eliminate last-minute time crunch crises, but by efficiently organizing your non-urgent tasks, you’ll be able to decrease the amount of time spent up against a deadline.

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What is Parkinson’s Law?

This summer, Parkinson’s Law has had an interesting effect on my time management.

Parkinson’s Law:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Basically, the more time you have available to do something, the longer it’s going to take. Oh so true!

I went into this summer expecting to be very productive, and I was! However, if I take a serious look into how much concrete work I accomplished, it isn’t too much more than what I would have accomplished during the school year. This of course, is because of Parkinson’s Law. I have more time to work in the summer, so the work takes longer.

However, there is something to be said for how much more enjoyable and less stressful my work has been this summer. During the school year, I’m up at 5 to get to school. I try to cram in some work over my lunch break, then squeeze in a few more hours between when school gets out and ASU evening class begins. It’s rather exhausting, but it works.

In the summer, I don’t have to get up that early. I can work much more leisurely. I can take frequent breaks and I also have the flexibility to take a mid-week day off if I need to. Sure, I may not be completing triple the workload that it may seem like I’d be able to, but I’m enjoying my work much more. As long as I’m not flat out wasting time, I’m willing to sacrifice a few productivity hours to make my summer a little more relaxing.

What Counts as Wasting Time?

The key difference between working leisurely and wasting time is your use of Time Killers (or as Lifehack calls them: Cockroaches of Time Management. Ha!) As long as you aren’t getting lost in those little things that waste your time without your permission, there is nothing wrong with choosing to let yourself work a little slower once in a while if your schedule allows it.

Focused work is always better than unfocused work, but staying “focused” doesn’t mean having your nose to the grindstone 24/7. Finding that balance is the ultimate time management secret to success.

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