David R. Henderson  

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Over at marginalrevolution.com, Tyler Cowen has posted some excellent rules for managing your time. I won't repeat them here--they're short enough--but I want to add an important one, comment on a few, and add a final one.

Here's the one I want to add:

Rule Number 0: Start!

Most of the people I talk to, and I, find that one of the hardest things to do is start something. We picture it in prospect and think that we have a big mountain to climb. It seems intimidating. But even climbing a big mountain starts with a single step. And once you take that step, you actually build a little momentum and the project typically doesn't feel as hard as it did.

That's my big contribution--thus the title of this post.

My comments on a few of Tyler's rules.

Tyler: Do the most important things first in the day and don't let anybody stop you.
DRH: Yes, and arrange the items you wish to accomplish in order of priority. Assign roughly accurate estimates of time to each. Then start with #1. Don't make the mistake of listing 12 important things you want to do if realistically you can accomplish only 5 of them. When you see that you did 5, you should be able to celebrate rather than beating yourself because you didn't do all 12. That's where the time estimates come in.

Tyler: Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to. Better to approach your next writing day "hungry" than to feel "written out." Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.
DRH: I'll hone this point a little. I try to stop when I'm in the middle of a relatively easy point I'm making rather than when I'm trying to solve a complex issue. Then, when I begin the next day, it's easy.

Final rule and it's also about starting:
Let's say you get to about 4:50 p.m. and you normally go home at 5:00 p.m. You have just finished one task on your list, but there are some left. None of them takes as little as 10 minutes. Start the next task anyway. The 10 minutes you spend today is 10 minutes you don't need to spend tomorrow. Think on the margin. (Pillar #3.)


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Daniel Shapiro writes:

Thanks for the post, David. One thing I don't understand about doing the most important things first in the day: what if you are sluggish first in the day? Don't people differ in this regard? ( different Circardian rhythms, etc)

Shane L writes:

I've been helping a friend with her PhD writing and I also gave the advice to start and not be intimidated by a blank page. I don't need to now, but when I was younger I would open a document just to brainstorm ideas onto. It would be a mess of individual sentences or paragraphs. From this I would copy sections and paste into the actual draft document, working there to tidy it up and organise it. That was an effective way to get words onto paper and begin, instead of staring at a blank page waiting for a perfect essay to emerge.

Daublin writes:

I have a variation of the "stop while it's easy" rule. I never stop working on a project until I know what I will do when I start working on it the next time. This applies whether or not it's something I'm going to work on tomorrow; if it's not going to happen tomorrow, though, then I write down the next step in the notes file for that project.

That first step can be a hard problem if I know I have the tools to solve it and can jump in and start doing it. It has to be something specific, though--it can't be a fundamental reconsideration of the whole project.

Regarding the day cycle: I am personally probably 3x better on creative activities in the early morning. Everything after lunch needs to be relatively mechanical.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Daniel Shapiro,
Thanks for the post, David. One thing I don't understand about doing the most important things first in the day: what if you are sluggish first in the day? Don't people differ in this regard? ( different Circardian rhythms, etc)
You’re welcome, Daniel. That’s a good question. It is true that both Tyler and I are speaking based on our rhythms. You do have to adapt this to yours.
@Shane L,
Great advice. Wordperfect changed my life in this respect. RIP :-( What I started doing was what you did--writing thoughts and sentences as they occurred to me, all into one document. Then, instead of pasting into another document, I made this my document. Gradually it evolved into the article.
@Daublin,
I have a variation of the "stop while it's easy" rule. I never stop working on a project until I know what I will do when I start working on it the next time. This applies whether or not it's something I'm going to work on tomorrow; if it's not going to happen tomorrow, though, then I write down the next step in the notes file for that project.
Excellent.

dmk writes:

Finish the job! Overall efficiency suffers when a bunch of 80% complete tasks start piling up.

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