Making Use of Weird Windows of Time

The concept of daily or weekly to-do lists is as outdated as rotary phones. We need to have a total, holographic view of everything we want to accomplish, and all the actions required to start any of them. And we need to have access to views of those actions whenever we actually might be able to do them.

Most everyone I come across in my clients’ organizations are up to their eyeballs in work, and feel overwhelmed. Strategy and triage are indeed required to address that, but at least as important is the requirement for people to set up their lives to get a lot more efficient about getting a lot more done in a day.

To steal from a Motorola strategy from many years ago, we need to “mine the bandwidth.” They developed technology utilizing the more discreet areas “between the lines” in the radio frequencies already in place. Similarly we need to be ready for, and take advantage of, the weird uneven time and energy spaces we find ourselves in.

Ever have the attention span of a gnat…either externally imposed or internally generated (like 4:30 PM on a day of six meetings, five of which were brutal)? Ever have a short (but still unknown) time period, with informal distraction, like waiting for a late meeting to start?

There are very few times and places we really have the appropriate energy level, tools, and uninterrupted time frames to work on some of our “most important” work. The rest of the day, we shouldn’t be feeling guilty that we’re not working on “job one.” Rather, we should be maximizing our productivity by picking things to do (that we’re going to do anyway, sometime) that match the situation.

Catch up on the FYI-type Read-and-Review emails while waiting for meetings. Water your plants and fill your stapler when your brain is toast. Call to make the appointment you’ve been putting off when you have ten minutes before you board a plane. Problem is, most people don’t have all those options already figured out and put in appropriately accessible buckets to rummage through when those situations appear. And mostly when those weird time slots happen they don’t have the energy to remember them or figure them out.

It’s a subtle and fine line between doing less important items as a way to procrastinate, and doing them because it is the most productive thing you can do effectively. At worst it’s an energizing way to waste time semi-productively. At best, it’s keeping the decks clear and optimally utilizing yourself as a resource.

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

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  1. I am a morning person and do my high energy, high Focus actions during this time. I usually block my calendar so that meetings don’t magically appear. But by 3:00, I am more in the mode as David as described here. This is when my next action lists sorted by context, time to complete, AND importantly, energy level, come into play! So project blocks in the morning, and this approach in the afternoons. Cheers!

  2. Hi David! Weird windows of time… what a great issue! It’s surprising what acutally can be done in those short time frames. I recently had a photo exhibition about urban cycling. The best thing: almost the whole work was done in weird windows of time. I took most photos on my daily commute and did also the editing on the run, waiting somewhere or on my train commute. I just had to pick up the finished work from the print shop and arrange everything.

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