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After you've decided what the next step is, now you get to decide when you will do that step. The question when it will be done doesn't apply to the entire thing that you're dealing with, or the entire project. It's just referring to when the next step will be done. Here are a few good rules of thumb to keep in mind when answering the "When" question. First of all, if the item can be done in five minutes or less, do it right then. Why five minutes? Well, it will probably take you a couple of minutes to schedule a step in your task list or your calendar.
However, we also have to account for the switching cost involved. Remember, switching cost is the transition time of mental effort and energy when you switch from one task to the other. So if something can be done in five minutes or less, do it right then. Next, calendar the item if it will take more than 15 minutes or if it has a deadline. If something takes more than 15 minutes, even if it doesn't have a deadline, and even if it's of minor importance, it must be budgeted in a calendar. Why? Well, if you don't budget the time in your calendar for an item that's longer than 15 minutes, it's really unlikely to get done.
So if it takes more than 15 minutes, put it in your calendar. Also, if its time sensitive, meaning it has a deadline--this step has to be completed by a certain date-- you also need to put that in your calendar. Your calendar is a firm, rigid commitment of how you're going to spend your time. Now, if the next step will take between five and 15 minutes and doesn't have a deadline, go ahead and put that step to a task list. The task list is most effective when used for short, brief, and flexible actions.
Use the task list to give you reminders or suggested dates and times of when you're going to do things. If you don't perform the task at that specific time, you can snooze a reminder or schedule the task again later. Another rule of thumb when deciding on when you will do the next step is group repetitive tasks. For instance, if I have a series of bills to pay, rather than have a bunch of separate calendar items scattered throughout my week or month, it may be wise to have a recurring appointment in my calendar to pay all the bills at once.
Grouping repetitive tasks has always been an efficient way to get in the groove and accomplish many things of the same type efficiently. Another rule of thumb: after you determine the when for your action step, always include a date and time in your calendar or task reminder, to just say, "I'm going to do it sometime next week," is not a strong enough 'when'. Choose a specific time, such as, I'm going to do it next Tuesday at 3 o'clock.
Or if the next step is a task, you're going to say I believe I can do it next Wednesday at 4 o'clock. A last rule of thumb: leave space between appointments. When you over-schedule yourself or when you put appointments back to back to back, you're not being realistic and not leaving enough breathing room between those appointments. Always leave a little bit of extra time before and after your calendared items. Leave at least 10 minutes between every hour of buffer space.
So if you have a two-hour appointment, that means you're going to need to leave 20 minutes of buffer space after the appointment. Leaving buffer space will leave enough room for you to stay on top of the little interruptions and give you time to prepare for your next appointment. So in summary, when scheduling the 'when', do it now if it can be done in five minutes or less. Calendar it if it will take more than 15 minutes or is time sensitive. Task it if it will take between five and 15 minutes and is not time sensitive.
Group repetitive tasks. Include a specific date and time, and leave space between appointments. By considering these rules of thumb, when answering the 'when' will it be done question, you make better use of your available time.
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