Staying on Task

Every big opportunity comes with a million small tasks. Managing those tasks is the topic of this post. Specifically, I’ll blog about managing tasks for people who spend most of their day working on a computer. The computer is the world’s best entertainment device so staying focused can take hard work. In this blog I’ll share my methods for staying focused and managing time. This is the method I use today but I’m always tweaking it and am eager to learn better ones.

Use An Online Task List And Calendar

I put every task – personal and business – into my task list. If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, I do it immediately. Right there and then. If takes longer, I schedule it. The calendar doesn’t need to be filled up weeks in advance; my calendar changes every few hours as priorities change.

Focus On The ‘Important But Not Urgent’ Stuff

From The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People we learn that tasks can be grouped into four quadrants:

  • QI – Important and Urgent
  • QII – Important but Not Urgent
  • QIII – Not Important but Urgent
  • QIV – Not Important and Not Urgent


  • The author of Seven Habits instructs us to focus first on the stuff that is QII: Important but Not Urgent. For example, if my drivers license will expire soon, I go replace it immediately. That way I avoid an Important and Urgent issue next time I get pulled over or try to use that ID to travel. Those issues cause stress and disorder.

    Be Flexible But Respect The Calendar

    If I miss a scheduled task, I reschedule it. If I start neglecting it or moving tasks around too frequently, the system loses effectiveness. I respect the calendar by abiding by it as much as possible, by sharing it with my wife and my colleagues, and by making it my most frequently visited site online.

    Respecting the calendar, for me, is almost impossible when I’m tired. Impulse control deteriorates with sleep deprivation, so when I’m tired I find Facebook messages, Tweets, and TheOnion.com irresistible distractions. In those cases I try not to fight it. First, I’ll take a nap. Second, I try watch an informative Ted Talk or skim my Google Reader. If I’m going to waste time, I might as well learn something in the process.

    Tiles and Grouting

    I think of my day like a tiled wall: scheduled tasks are tiles and the free space in between are grouting. (I am shamelessly paraphrasing another blogger’s work with this metaphor, but only because it’s such an awesome idea.) I use that free space for Tweeting, checking Facebook, visiting Gawker.com, etc.

    Where I Got My Method

    Nothing about my method is original. I’ve synthesized ideas from people I admire, books I’ve read, and techniques that work for me. If you’re interested in further reading, I suggest these books or methods:

  • Getting Things Done
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
  • FranklinCovey
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