Right now, for many students, is the busiest part of the year. It seems like somewhere around mid-November, most professors realize “hey, we’ve got to give out more work!” and then give projects, papers, tests, presentations, and the like- all due, seemingly, on the same day.
This, though, isn’t the sole cause of stress for me. Often, the thing can stresses me out the most is all the other things I have to do that go by the wayside, or pile up and overwhelm me. Little things like running errands, answering email, and making phone calls can be as big a source of stress for me as the big papers and projects.
The solution that’s worked for me, and I bet will for you, is a task-kill day. Task-kill days work for me, but for some they’re mornings, evenings, hours- whatever works for you.
Here’s what a task kill day is, in a nutshell: it’s a day devoted solely to motoring through all the little, small tasks that add up to one huge, overwhelming rock on your way to sanity and productivity. You’re not focused on projects with many steps, or on working towards getting anything major done. This is designed to let you ignore, for whatever time period you select, those big projects to focus on the small stuff that has that obnoxious tendency to add up.
Here are five keys to having a really successful Task Kill Day:
1. Write It Down Create a task list. Already have one? Create a new one. Make it only the things you need to do during your task kill day. The key to a successful TKD is to keep your focus only on the things you need to do. At the same time, make sure your list is filled only with things you’re going to do with your TKD. You want a task list that you can cross up, ball up and throw away at the end of your session. Believe me- there’s no better feeling.
2. Start Small What’s the smallest task on your list? That is to say, what do you have to do that will take the least amount of time? Do that first. Getting something done, no matter how small, will help you get in the groove of being productive and let you move on to other stuff.
3. Timing is Everything Scheduling your TKD has two effects- it sets the time apart, reserving you for productivity, and it gives you a deadline. You’ll work faster, more efficiently, and more productively if you’re able to have a set time to do what you want to do. Also, having a time deadline will help sharpen your focus, keep you on task, and help the process work well. Start when you say you’re going to, and end when you say you will. Make a schedule, and stick to it.
4. Divide and Conquer During my TKDs, I tend to have four things to do: emails to send, things to read, phone calls to make, and errands to run. I find it helpful to break those down, and do them one at a time. Spend an hour (or seven) answering emails. Then make your phone calls. Instead of constantly switching your focus, hunker down and do things one type at a time. I find it’s easier to transition between phone calls than between an email and a phone call and an article.
5. Keep Trucking Don’t stop working. Get things done. The great thing about TKDs is that since tasks are small, you’ll be crossing them off your list quickly. It’s fulfilling, but it’s easy to feel like you’ve made a dent, and you’ll want to quit and do something else. In my experience, though, finishing the list is worth it. Work your way to zero outstanding tasks, and don’t quit until you get there. That feeling at the end is too good to pass up.
The thing about a Task Kill Day is that it makes your other work easier to do. Now, when you sit down to write a paper, it’ll be the only thing you have to do. No worrying about emails, phone calls, and the like- you’ll get to it. When you’ve got big stuff to do, the answer’s not to ignore the small stuff; it’s to make time for it, and get it done en masse, instead of letting it pile up and overwhelm you.
How do you get small things done when there’s big stuff to do also? Let us know in the comments.