Saturday, March 24, 2012

Do It Tomorrow

Over Indian food on the banks of the Cam, the conversation between myself and the Vicar turned to time management. This caught my attention because as a David Allen acolyte, I have been through my own personal journey from chaos to order. And, as a priest, I am always looking for ways to help myself and my fellow clergy better keep our promises.

He continued talking about a string of things I'd never heard about before: closed lists, the manana principle, and knowing when you're done for the day. Wait, what? You, a vicar, can know when you're done with work for the day?

Yep. That's the power of Mark Forster's little book, Do It Tomorrow (US version).

I picked up the book the same week and devoured it on a train ride to and from London. I implemented the ideas last week, and they have upended the way I look at and practice time management in at least four ways.

First, it has changed the way I look at a day's work. One of the book's promises is that you can know what a day's worth of work is, and that you can complete it every day. Forster says that you can only keep all the promises you've made to yourself and others if your work output is roughly equal to your work input. Basically, a day's work is the work that arrives on your desk during the day (in this case, yesterday), plus anything else you need to do to keep active projects functioning. When you've done that, you're done.

Second, the book has changed the way I look at lists. There's a distinction between open and closed lists. An open list is, well, open. You can always add things to it. If you work on perennially open lists, then all you can do is 'prioritize.' By default, a few important things will always make their way to the bottom, where they will die. A closed list, on the other hand, is one to which you add nothing. Being closed, it can be completed, which is motivating. The point of the books' recommendations are to create the possibility of making and completing a closed list every day.

Third, the book has changed the way I look at urgency. With an open list, things get done when they get done. Forster recommends that there are only really three categories of urgency: emergency, urgent, and tomorrow. Emergencies are when something comes up that forces you to drop everything else and leave the building. Urgent items require a response or an action the same day, not necessarily at this moment. But, the genius of the system is that everything else is given an urgency of tomorrow. Do It Tomorrow is the name of the book after all.

Fourth, the book has changed the way I handle email. Since a day's work is the work you receive in a day, a day's worth of email is the email you received yesterday. He suggests scanning email for urgency. If it is isn't an emergency or urgent, put it in a folder marked "Tomorrow." The next morning, move all the email to a folder marked "Today" and work through it. You should be able to deal with all your email for the day in 30 minutes to an hour. I spent less than thirty minutes this morning dealing with all my email from yesterday. I have had the rest of the day to deal with my day's work, a closed list that included drafting a piece of this blog.

Wrapping up, I highly recommend Forster's Do It Tomorrow. It's recommendations are easily implemented, and the results are profound and immediate. My Vicar friend said that after he bought the book, his staff team, seeing the difference, started using it themselves. Since then, his entire deanery has joined in.

So, go ahead. Read it and let me know what you think. Tomorrow.

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