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How can I schedule in the maintenance tasks into my day yet allocate enough time for my important goal tasks?

If I didn't have any goal tasks, my "maintenance" tasks (clean rooms, read email, kill that darn fly, write thank you note, store biz cards from conference) could easily fill up a couple days. However, doing that doesn't get the longer term important things done.

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4 Answers 4

Divide your tasks into the four quadrants Urgent/Not urgent and Important/Not important.

Then for some time register the time spent in each task. This lets you calculate how much time you spend on each category.

From there you can decide how much time you want to spend in each category. Maybe this exercise is already enough to make you ask yourself each time "Is this urgent/important", then make a decision. Maybe you need a task manager that lets you categorize the tasks beforehand to help you decide. That's more 'bookkeeping', just find out what works for you.

Instead of 'time spent' 'number of tasks' may be a measurement that's good enough for you. Again, experiment.

There is one special category: the tasks that can be done in 2-3 minutes. You should consider doing those immediately when they come up, because listing and postponing them may be too much overhead.

Another alternative is to apply a Pomodoro system to your tasks. The internet (and this site) is full of documentation about that.

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I appreciate you responding. All my maintenance tasks are important and all my goal tasks are important. Hmm. Now what? –  finneycanhelp Jun 28 at 22:09
    
I seriously doubt that. Make a scale instead of a binary yes/no important. And you forgot to take urgent into the equation. –  Jan Doggen Jun 29 at 8:35
    
This week, nothing is urgent. Staycation-ing –  finneycanhelp Jun 30 at 20:16

There is no silver bullet that will solve your current solution, but there are ways to improve your situation over time:

Reduce the sense of urgency in your life

By spending more time in the Quadrant II, you will slowly reduce the number of urgent but not important (or non-goal) tasks. You will always have maintenance tasks, but they should be kept to the minimum.

Quadrant II is about preparation / planning, but in your case it could be automation and simplification. Many of us are busy, and we all feel maintenance tasks are taking over, but the more Quadrant II tasks you manage to squeeze, the fewer maintenance tasks you will have to deal with in the future.

Where do you find time to do Quadrant II tasks? (I speak about it more in details here: http://weekplan.net/online-course-time-management/ )

Get rid of your TV. (I am not joking)

Done? Good. You have instantly freed a lot of time and you have proven to yourself that you are committed to find a solution to your problem.

Another way to find time for Quadrant II tasks is to schedule them at the start of the week so that you can't book anything else on that time slot later in the week. It is the concept of putting "First Things First". For example, you could tell yourself that you will focus an hour tomorrow (Tuesday) evening to find ways to reduce the amount of maintenance tasks coming your way.

Simplify and automate

Look at your recurring maintenance tasks, pick the most time consuming ones (to have a greater return on investment), and find ways to reduce the time they take to execute.

I automate all my bills. I try to switch to email notifications as much as possible instead of having to deal with snail mail. Etc...

I have a scan of my signature on my computer that I use when I need to sign a document that someone sent by email. Instead of printing, signing and scanning again, I just insert the image of my signature in the document (I use a PDF editor for PDFs).

There are many little things like that that you can do to make the list of maintenance tasks shorter and leaner.

Trade time for money

You can buy time.

Hire people to do stuff for you so that you can spend time somewhere else.

For example, I have no problem paying someone to come and clean my apartment because I believe I can make a better use of my time. This principle of using your money to buy some time can be used in many aspects of your life.

For example, buy equipment that will make you more productive. For me as a software developer, it means having a good laptop, a good chair (so that I am productive longer), and good development tools (so that it takes less time to do stuff).

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I hope I could help a little.

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I stopped watching TV years ago. :) Good point though. –  finneycanhelp Jun 30 at 20:18
    
<3 "Simplify and automate" and "no problem paying someone to come and clean my apartment" I do soft. dev. too. –  finneycanhelp Jun 30 at 20:23
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Cool, as a software developer you should be able to afford a cleaner, and other services (I deliver groceries home)... –  Aymeric Gaurat-Apelli Jul 1 at 2:10

This is one of the problem areas that David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) addresses very well. Although Jan's indication towards the simple and effective quadrant based approach (urgency vs importance) is effective but it needs a set of principles and purpose to prioritize and classify tasks into one of these quadrants. That's where GTD comes in place very well.

GTD requires a setup time in the beginning but as you practice it more, you will realize how easily and crisply this framework allows you to classify your tasks into one of these four quadrants (urgency vs importance) and also quite trivially prioritize your immediate tasks at hand.

The problem is not to choose which tasks to perform, it is to smartly plan out tasks even if they are maintenance tasks without having any worries or excess baggage of missing out on more important life changing tasks.

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Firstly I would lose the "important" label. If its not that important then you probably shouldn't be doing it at all.

I can appreciate that Covey's Quadrant was an important milestone in determining priorities but David Allen's Areas of Focus and Horizons of Focus are a more useful paradigm to determine the priority of a task at any given moment. In this model your priorities depend on your assessment of your current situation as well as your desire for paying attention to certain areas in your life.

You right to schedule time for any of these tasks. Putting a time box for yours activities is helpful in partitioning your time to various areas of focus.

If your project goals are a priority you should schedule some hard time to completing those project tasks. Set aside a few hours and mark them down on your calendar so you know not to do any of your maintenance tasks. Hopefully at the end of each session you can demonstrate some noticeable progress toward your goal. These little victories really give me a sense of accomplishment in knowing I moved the ball forward even if just a little bit.

You can do your maintenance tasks after you have committed time to your goal oriented projects. Keep a running list of optional things to do when you are done working on your goal oriented projects. If you see some of your maintenance items starting to slip out of control, for example if the laundry is piling up or the house needs cleaning, then schedule a little less time for your projects and take care more of the maintenance stuff.

But sometimes you can schedule the maintenance stuff too. I schedule a half an hour for exercising every the morning.

You are the one making the schedule, you can be as flexible as you need.

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