The other day, a dear friend called feeling overwhelmed by all the things in front of her to do in the next three hours. In her jumbled mind, so filled was it with self-blame for not having gotten more done sooner that her tasks spread out in front of her infinitely. She couldn't fathom getting everything done, let alone getting that magic amount done: "Enough."
Time management is a complicated skill, and there are a million people out there ready to tell you how to do it. Like everything else, though, finding the tool that works for you depends on cherry-picking, to some extent.
Here are a few of the things that work for me: Perhaps they will work for you.
Write it down
In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, author David Allen really encourages people to write stuff down. Until you do, you'll feel like my friend: stressed because you're trying to manage all those tasks in your head, instead of on paper, where they metamorphize into discrete and manageable tasks.
So with my friend, I asked her for each thing she needed to do, when they were due, and how long she estimated they would take.
I listed these out.
I love my Franklin Covey planner, mostly for the little to-do list it includes on each day. But the real brilliance of the Franklin Covey plan is its encouragement to divide things into three categories:
A-- essential; must get done today or the world ends.
B-- important but not essential.
With my friend, I think asked her to rank each item--it turned out there were only five items, and only two turned out to be essential.
Then, Franklin Covey recommends numbering each item, according to when you'll do them, not how important they are. My to-do list usually starts this way:
A1: Written check in
A3: Call one of my support people
B4: Marketing. Sure, you could consider this "essential," as any business will die without it. But unless I'm plumb out of work, I consider this to be an important thing to do no matter what.
And then I get to the work that's attached to an actual paycheck.
Your "essential" items are probably different from yours. This is just what works for me.
After my friend and I talked for a bit about her work, she was able to differentiate between the things she felt like she had to do because otherwise she'd be embarassed and the things that were actually essential for meeting deadlines.
And that frantic anxiety abated.
Give it a try. Or even better: tell me what prioritization system works best for you.