This state is called procrastination, although some consider it banal laziness. Forster, on the other hand, explains that the point is in the features of the human brain, which in a simplified form consists of two parts, rational and reactive.
The reactive part of the brain has ensured our survival in the course of evolution. It is responsible for basic emotions – fear, greed, curiosity. And it also allows us to stay safe when we withdraw our hand from a hot one or jump back when we see an icicle fall on us.
Forster compares the reactive brain to a lizard basking on a rock. Noticing the threat, she hides and freezes. And if he finds a tasty bug, he will instantly react by grabbing it. Recognizing a threat or food, reacting, is all that the reactive brain is interested in. He has no plans for the future. This is what distinguishes it from the rational brain. It does not care about the list of tasks compiled by the rational brain. He wants this delicious piece of cake and to watch Tyoma Lebedev’s latest video. What doubts can there be?
Forster presents the rational brain as a kind of control center, an organ of power constantly busy making plans for its owner. It is the rational brain that pushes us to New Year’s resolutions and to-do lists with a complex system of priorities. And here another problem appears: we perceive the future self as some kind of separate person.
This future person is much more responsible and purposeful. He will definitely be able to get up for a run at five in the morning, eat unsalted oatmeal on the water with a smile, and then debug the code of a recalcitrant function for four hours in a row. Then he will have something useful for lunch and immediately return to work, without being distracted by conversations with colleagues and cats on Instagram.
As the experiments described by Kelly McGonnigal in the book Willpower have shown, most people overestimate their future self and without the slightest doubt load it with overwork.
It turns out that the traditional systems of time management over long distances “break down” due to the powerful opposition of the reactive brain, which resists attempts to load the future self with a load that cannot be taken out. The priority system doesn’t help. The rational brain folds when the reactive colleague wants to hide in a mink and eat delicious food.
How is work different from employment?
Prioritizing tasks is a kind of compromise. We kind of answer ourselves the question “what needs to be done now, and what should be postponed?” or, simplifying, “what can be done well, and what can be done badly or not at all?”. The right question is: “Do I even need to do this?”
The fulfillment of our goals depends not only on what we are going to do to achieve them, but also on what we will not do. In other words, we make commitments to do the things that lead us to our goal and let go of the commitments that get in the way.
Understanding the purpose allows you to draw a clear line between real work and employment. A real job requires the full use of skills and knowledge, it contains a challenge and forces you to leave your comfort zone. It is difficult to work in this way, so the reactive brain actively resists, eludes. He seeks to keep us busy with any business that helps to evade real work.
Running around the office with papers in hand or generating many meetings looks like work, although in fact it is an imitation of vigorous activity – employment. But thinking about a debugging strategy is more like wandering in the clouds, although it brings much more benefits than emotionally waving printouts.
Forster gives the following signs of employment:
- You are overwhelmed with easy work. A real job can be very challenging, but it doesn’t make you feel like a squirrel on a wheel.
- You often do work that less competent colleagues or subordinates can do.
- Really important things never get done.
- You don’t have time to stop and think. Real work is thought expressed in action. If you don’t think this is hardly a real job.
- You only plan for very short periods of time. This work assumes a broad planning horizon.
- You keep running into the same problems. Real work requires well-oiled systems that can support it.
How to distinguish between importance and urgency
When they talk about importance and urgency, they usually remember the Eisenhower matrix, in which all tasks are divided into four categories:
- important and urgent;
- important and non-urgent;
- unimportant and urgent;
- unimportant and non-urgent.
For clarity, we also provide a graphical representation of such a scheme.
The problem is that urgency is often confused with importance. As a result, urgent but unimportant tasks consume all the working time, crowding out truly important but not urgent ones. Later, analyzing what was done during the day, we understand that this report, requested by a colleague, would have waited for tomorrow, just like the corrections that the customer asked about. However, the “urgent” mark fired up the reactive brain, and we rushed into battle without realizing the real need for combat.
The reactive brain is indispensable in fires and other emergencies, but it makes it very difficult to act rationally. To change this, Forster recommends creating a buffer in which all incoming tasks are placed. So we switch the brain from reactive thinking to rational.
The best way to organize a buffer is to write down everything that we are going to do. Writing is a higher order activity that automatically switches the brain into rational mode and protects against the impulsive impulses of the reactive brain, to which everything urgent seems important.
Forster recommends: as soon as you receive a task that at first glance requires a quick or immediate response, write it down. Writing it down will help you decide whether you really need to complete it during the day or if you can easily postpone it until tomorrow.
Why close to-do lists
If most of your tasks are “done tomorrow,” you’re at an advantage because you can take advantage of closed to-do lists. Forster refers to lists as closed, to which no more tasks can be added. A closed list sets boundaries and thereby helps to take control of the workday.
Open lists are familiar to-do lists that are updated with new tasks throughout the working day. Such lists seriously impair the efficiency of processes. After all, when new tasks pile up in a continuous stream, it is almost impossible to finish the work. We select from the list the task that attracts attention, leaving others for “someday”. As a result, unfinished tasks accumulate, creating stress and dissatisfaction.
The key difference between a closed list and an open one, which changes the very approach to work, is that the tasks in it do not have priority. The closed list contains all the things you decide to do today. Therefore, it does not matter in what order to execute them.
Forster’s advice: Don’t take on more work per day than you can handle. Use closed to-do lists to manage your workload and make it more balanced.
Postpone to tomorrow to do it faster
To improve efficiency, Forster recommends using two techniques:
- If possible, do not complete tasks on the day they were received (postpone until tomorrow).
- Use closed lists as often as possible.
This way of organizing the workflow results in a day-long buffer. This allows you to systematically perform new tasks, minimize distractions, easily plan the day, regularly doing approximately the same amount of work. At the same time, the work planned for the day ends with the last item from the list, and if something didn’t work out, it’s easy to find out the reasons.
Forster calls this approach the principle of “manana” (Spanish): never do today what can be put off until tomorrow.
Current initiative: what to do every day in the first place
Closed lists and the manan principle are great for getting things done, but in order to move forward, you need to take the initiative and do something new. How many times have we written something like “open your own business”, “write a program for …”, “create a website for …” into New Year’s resolutions? And how many of those promises have been kept?
Turning dreams into reality will help the concept of actual initiative, which is based on the idea that every day you need to start with focused work on a certain direction. By focusing on one thing, you can move forward in its implementation much faster than if you add it to your list of tasks every day.
A good example of a current initiative is clearing up work debris and completing overdue cases. If you constantly put off something, start your day with this task. The elimination of the “tails” brings a sense of relief and energizes. Other good directions for the current initiative are fixing defective systems, launching and supporting projects.
Summary: Seven Principles of Time Management
- Formulate a clear vision. Every time you are about to do something, ask yourself: “What am I really going to achieve?” By being clear about your goals, you increase your chances of achieving them.
- Complete tasks one at a time. Focus on one task, do it right, then move on to the next. Work happens where your attention is directed.
- Work little and often. The brain works more efficiently when it regularly performs feasible tasks. A break is needed for recovery and adaptation. During rest, the brain forms new neural connections. This works for both the mental and physical abilities of a person.
- Set boundaries. When boundaries are defined, it is easier to concentrate. Constraints stimulate creative thinking. Projects with poorly defined boundaries blur life and work.
- Use closed lists – lists of cases to which new items cannot be added. As long as there are unfinished items on the list, do not take on new tasks. Since the goal is to complete all the tasks in the list, the order of execution does not matter.
- Remove interrupts. Random factors ruin plans for the day. The most frequent interruption is adding new cases to the current list. In this case, you have to do something that you did not plan. Don’t let random events rule your work and life. Ask yourself: “What controls my life? Noise or a conscious vision of the life path?
- Focus on commitment. Before you take on a new business, ask yourself how it will affect existing commitments. Prepare for the fact that in order to implement a new task, you will have to sacrifice other obligations, otherwise you will complain about the lack of time.
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