Spaghetti on a plate. That’s what many of our calendars – electronic or paper – look like. All of our appointments and lists of to-dos mixed together in one place. This accomplishes one of our goals: to get everything written down in one place. However, it doesn’t accomplish our primary goal: to get everything done in a timely fashion with minimum stress.
Another (food-related) way to look at this issue is to answer these questions:
- Do you have a kitchen?
- If so, do you have a silverware drawer?
- And a junk drawer?
- Does your calendar look like your silverware drawer or your junk drawer?
This is the fun, interactive example I use during my Focus Pocus: 24 Tricks for Regaining Command of Your Day seminar to get people thinking about how they can be more efficient and productive. The point is that getting everything into one place is the first step in efficient productivity. The second step is having a sorting system for all those things so your brain doesn’t have to constantly sort things before selecting which to do next.
A Sorting System
A simple way to sort the demands on your time is to consider appointments hard-coded time and to-dos soft-coded time. Here’s a working definition for each:
- Hard-Coded Time. Periods during which you must be physically or telephonically present, focused on a pre-determined topic. Any form of meeting or teleconference is a classic example of hard-coded time. So are doctor’s appointments, airline flights and soccer games.
- Soft-Coded Time. Periods during which you have available time work on the things you determine are most important or of highest priority. Tasks, to-dos, and projects are classic soft-coded time. So is writing a monthly time management newsletter!
Why Sorting is Better
The reason a sorting system makes us more effective is because the brain is better at integration-type behaviors than it is at list-tracking behaviors. That is, we’re better at fitting the soft-coded to-dos in between the hard-coded appointments than we are at tracking all of the hard-coded and soft-coded items.
In his book “Brain Rules,” John Medina dispels the wives tale that we can track up to seven things at a time. In fact, current science suggests we can only keep track of about four things at once. Consider this fact in the face of the number of appointments and to-dos you have in your daily life! The answer is to use some simple tools to give your brain a hand.
Sort and Forever Forget
Sorting things between hard-coded time and soft-coded time gives your brain a leg up on aligning your efforts with what most needs doing. It also lessens the load on the mechanical process of differentiating between when you are scheduled and what you need to do.