Everyone always suggests that time management is a simple system of breaking big tasks down into little tasks and then spreading out those little tasks over the time you have.

Sounds easy.  Sounds logical.  Sounds painless.

Except that I’ve never been able to do that.  I just don’t get those little tasks done according to the timeline that I had set for myself.   And then I feel like I have to “catch-up”.  And then I fail at the catching-up.  The stress just snowballs.  The end result is invariably the same as if I hadn’t set up the plan in the first place: at the last minute, I come up with a bare minimum plan and then I systematically complete each section as best as I can.

Recently I tried to do this again with one of the projects that I need to complete.  And it played out exactly as I’m used to.  My good intentions were for naught.

So then, this past week, I changed the rules.  I sent out emails to a bunch of friends asking for help.  My friends are going to be my deadlines.  They are my external clock.  This is how it works:

  • I create the schedule, I break up my project into smaller pieces and I set deadlines for each smaller piece.
  • For each deadline, I pick a friend to send my work to.
  • The friend looks over the work and gives me some feedback.  Not a ton, because I don’t want this to be a huge amount of work for them.  Just something simple that keeps me thinking.
  • The rule for me is that I MUST meet that deadline.  If the work isn’t finished, then I must send it anyways and deal with being embarrassed.  Once I select the timeframe, it is unmovable.

So far, I’ve set and met one deadline.  (Success!)  And I have another deadline coming up next Tuesday.  I’m trying to keep them pretty frequent, but I’m also trying to plan around other activities so that I don’t feel guilty for going to a family dinner or doing other non-work things.

I’m also not planning all of the deadlines up front.  I want to have enough pressure to keep me thinking of the next deadline, but not too much pressure that I feel “paralyzed” by all the deadlines that are looming.  It’s a slightly lighter load than I think I can handle, but I think that slowly building success is the most important thing for me right now.