(In this series of posts, we are examining ways to better manage our time.)
The Order of Tasks
There is a survival simulation where you are trapped in a cave. There is a single ladder going to the surface that can only hold one person at a time. There are two other individuals with you. One is younger than you and can climb faster. The other is older than you and can climb slower. Your job is to decide the order that people should leave the cave–oh I forgot to mention there is water rising and if you don’t do it in the correct order, someone will drown.
The trick is to send the older person last because they can still be on the ladder climbing as the water covers the area where you are currently standing. If you try to send the older (slower) person first or second, someone is going to drown. With the first two people, it doesn’t matter what order you use.
The point is that certain things work better when done in a particular order or at a particular time of day. If I sit and watch television for 4 hours in the morning, and then try to write late in the evening, I am not being my most productive. It is far better for me to write in the morning and then (if I have time), watch some television before going to bed.
Some of this comes down to understanding how your body mind works. For me, I’m better off doing any writing before noon or a few hours after lunch. I do better programming, when I know I will have no interruptions so I often am at my best when everyone else has gone to bed for the day. If I’m meeting with a client to discuss their business processes, I am at my peak mid morning around 10 am. It is personal and can be different for each person, but you have to make a conscious effort to understand yourself and put tasks where the work the best.
A task out of place (like trying to read a dense report when you are exhausted) can easily take twice as long as a task placed optimally in your day. By giving a little thought to the order in which you do your tasks, you can easily get more done with less effort.
Originally published March 1, 2007.