I'm sure everybody reading this post has experienced this at some point. You close down your computer on a Friday, excited for the weekend. You then proceed to spend the entire weekend thinking about the week you've just had and pre-empting all of the things that you want to get done the following week.
Before you know it Monday has come around again and you haven't reaped the benefits of having time away from your desk.
I spend a lot of my time mulling over these kinds of situations, as I believe work/life balance is one of the most fundamental problems with society today. We are all expected to be always on, and spend our lives never truly disconnecting from the working world.
Nothing you're about to read in this post is revolutionary, I'm instead regurgitating common tools and tricks I use, without fail, every single week to ensure my time away from the office is well spent.
Reset to Zero
I'm sure I'm not the person to coin the phrase reset to zero, but I certainly find it's the most accurate way to describe the system I employ.
Every week, I ensure that my working life is reset to a state of tranquility. I use these same methods in both my personal and professional life, but I'm confident nobody here wants to read about how I reset my house to zero (FYI, there's house-work involved).
What is involved
I use it as a way to make sure that there are no loose ends, no un-sent emails, and no un-committed changes.
My email inboxes are down to zero, my to-do list is updated and my next week is planned.
All my time is logged and my clients are aware of my plans for the next week so that I can be sure they will be available if I need to ask questions of them.
It can take me up to 2 hours to go through everything I need to, which may seem like two hours of wasted time. But the spare mental capacity managing your workload in this way provides, massively offsets the lost time. At least in my book anyway.
I can honestly say since fully committing to this practice every week my mental stress has dropped massively. No matter what the situation, being able to come back to the feeling of calm and control cannot be understated.
Especially with the dynamic nature of the industry, we all choose to work in, the power of a clear mind is invaluable.
If your interest has been piqued, I'm glad to hear it. If not, well why don't you keep reading anyway just to see what you might find out?
It's a reasonably straight forward process I follow:
1. Email Inboxes
I view my emails as my community to-do list. The world has access to it, and almost everything that comes in gives me a task to do.
So my first task is always getting an empty inbox.
I strictly follow Get Things Done principles when it comes to my email inbox.
- Anything I need to work on is moved to @action
- Anything I am waiting on somebody else for is moved to @waiting
- Anything else is deleted (with a copy stored in CRM for anything I feel could be useful in the future)
I'm pretty brutal about the above three rules, especially when it comes to deletion. I've found, after doing this consistently for 18 months, there is almost never a case where it is worth keeping an email cluttering up your mailbox.
These GTD principles are followed on a day by day basis. When it comes to my weekly review, I process all tasks in the @action, @waiting or Inbox folders out into my second brain.
Which leads me quite nicely on to
2. Project/Development Reviews
A nice short section here, but I run through each and every 'project' I'm working on and check to see what the current state is.
That would include outstanding commits from my laptop, work still to be done on the project, new feature requests or outstanding issues.
Basically anything at all that needs my direct input.
Sometimes this part of the review can take the longest, sometimes it's over and done within a matter of minutes.
Inevitably there are things that get forgotten here, but knowing that 98% of the things in my head are stored somewhere that isn't my sieve-like brain is a huge plus.
3. Todo lists (my second brain)
There are a billion and one articles around the internet on the correct way to manage a to-do list. A lot of which are filled with fantastic tips and tricks.
However, I think the best way to manage your to-do list is the way that works best for you.
Maybe you prefer one big long list of all the things you need to do. Maybe you prefer big overarching tasks with sub-tasks within them. The practical side of it is largely irrelevant.
What I always try to achieve with my to-do list, is to remove every single potential thought/thing to remember from my brain and instead ask a piece of technology to remember for me.
Again, I stick with GTD methods here. Anything that pops into my head during the week, gets added to an Inbox section of my to-do list. Similarly, when I process my emails anything that is important goes into the Inbox.
Step two of my weekly review is going through this inbox and organizing it into relevant places. This normally entails:
- New client requests
- Support issues (inc. time-sensitive ones)
- Emails I need to send
- Documents I need to read/review
- Interesting articles to read
- Phone calls to make
The list goes on.
These inbox items are organized into folders that follow and assigned times/dates based on the sensitivity of the thing:
- Professional - Day job
- Professional - Freelance
- Personal - Out and about
- Personal - Home
- Personal - Computer
Once done, I almost instantly feel like there is a weight off my shoulders.
And that's my professional life reset to zero. I apply these same principles to my personal life to ensure my entire world is in as calm a state as possible.
I can't rave enough about the benefits of spending the time doing this kind of thing.
Yes, it's time-consuming.
Yes, things will still get forgotten and you'll end up with an unexpected client call.
But once you've spent your first weekend not thinking about your working life because you are absolutely confident everything is in perfect order, you'll be thinking why you didn't start doing it earlier.
I'm intrigued to hear other people's best practices when it comes to managing your task list. Let me know in the comments...