Real Simple magazine, April 2011
Do the worst thing first
Maybe this is the last suggestion you want to hear. But there’s a good reason to start with the tough stuff. “We have a limited, depletable supply of willpower and resources,” says Piers Steel, Ph.D., a professor of human resources and organizational dynamics at the University of Calgary and the author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Things Done (Harper, $26). Attack the hardest task when your energy is fresh and you give yourself the strongest chance of success. Doing otherwise can have a damaging domino effect. “Putting off the dreaded item on your list saps your strength,” says Eva Wisnik, who conducts time-management training for new lawyers and corporations in New York City. Ultimately all your other tasks suffer—stressing over that worst thing “makes you not completely present with anything else,” says Wisnik. So identify and get started on the most heinous project, which is not necessarily the biggest job but the baddest. “Checking it off will make you feel super-productive,” says Wisnik, thus infusing you with gung-ho, it’s-all-downhill-from-here enthusiasm.
Start your day over at 2p.m.
What’s more irritating than witnessing your morning fly by without having dealt with your to-do list? Watching your afternoon roll right along with it. Combat this by implementing a reboot: “At 2 p.m. every day, assess how much you’ve accomplished, remind yourself of what’s critical, and alter your plan so you can tackle the most important thing,” says Wisnik. In other words, grant yourself a second morning in the middle of the day (complete with your caffeinated beverage of choice). And if there’s a new project that has become high priority, you still have the time and the energy to start it at 2 p.m. “If you wait until 5 p.m. to evaluate your day,” says Wisnik, “you’re out of time—and in crisis mode, putting out fires.”