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I am having trouble balancing "little recurring tasks" with the more pressing, timely tasks.

Examples of little recurring tasks from my last semester:

  • Every Friday at 5PM I had 10 homework problems due for a physics class.
  • Reviewing before and after each lecture to solidify concepts.

Throughout the week, I'd always focus on my most pressing assignments (because it makes the most sense), such as readings due tomorrow, quiz on Wednesday, etc.

However, then the little recurring tasks, which make sense to do a little bit at a time really piled up. Too many times I ended up doing all of physics on Thursday and Friday. I'd bet I didn't learn a whole lot and my grade in that class showed.

The obvious solution is to set in stone time each day for these little tasks, but this just doesn't make sense....

It's Monday at 9pm and I'm stuck on 2 physics problems due in 4 days and I have a reading assignment due tomorrow at 9am.

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3 Answers 3

The problem with your setup is that smaller priorities pileup and eventually become bigger priorities, and the cycle repeats itself indefinitely. Even if the smaller priorities may cost you a lower penalty if undone, the emotional and mental baggage you're forced to carry may not be worth neglecting those smaller things.

It seems obvious, but you should set time for all of them even if some are not as important as others. It's not like going to the movies or watching a ball game which are not really important; small tasks such as assignments and reviewing are important too. Obviously, you allot bigger time for the more important tasks, and sometimes, reallocate time for those which need urgent attention. Having a set time also forces you to work smarter and be more productive and disciplined since even the important tasks have a finite allocation of time and will not overstep other areas of your life.

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Note that in this answer I'm squarely(!) contradiction your remark "The obvious solution is to set in stone time each day for these little tasks, but this just doesn't make sense.... "

You are right, that is the obvious solution, and you are wrong, it does make sense. So just do it, and after sticking to it after 2 months, evaluate.

Set a designated period for the 'little things'. This is what many working people do as well: e.g. schedule two hours at the end of the day to do email and other assorted small stuff, schedule the friday afternoon for weekly repeating tasks etc.

Considerations:

  • Thinks that require attention, creativity, concentration: do these in the morning. Generally, that won't be your small stuff.

  • If small task come up irregularly during most days, you probably need a block each day.

  • It helps to write those small tasks on a list, so that when it's time you immediately know what to do. Putting things on paper is one method of setting up an external structure that reminds you - instead of you having to juggle it all in memory.

Sticking to those allocated blocks will give you peace of mind.

You may also want to look at the Pomodoro technique, which uses a schedule of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off.

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There is no definitive solution to this, as each person's situation and how they approach it is different.

I don't set alotted times, because, like you that makes little sense to me. But I prioritise tasks according to not just when they are due, but their difficulty level, hence how much time I would have to take on them - as you no doubt hav experienced, these priorities can change rapidly.

For example, you could complete your reading task, then tackle the difficult Physics questions as the latter will probably take more time.

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