So Much Time and So Little To Do

By Scott Isaacson, ESUCC

“We have so much time and so little to do…  Strike that.  Reverse it.”– Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971.

In these times of the virus, remote work, and family isolation, our life can seem reversed, scrambled, upside down. With so much change so fast, new uncertainties, worry, and kids needing our attention, focusing is hard. It is tempting to flutter all day from one need to the next, but all that thrashing around from meeting to meeting, task to task, thought to thought leaves us empty-handed at the end of the day.  We feel like we didn’t really do or finish anything. 

This is my struggle, and isn’t limited to only these circumstances, but any time of too much to do and not enough time to do it.  This post is about how to pull some order and productivity out of a chaotic time.

It’s important to realize and admit that I can only do a few things well in one day. I do not multitask well and I suspect very few can. Yes, my to-do list and inbox are full, but I can’t handle it all at once. Some years ago I read David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done“, and his suggestions have been very helpful to me. 

One is keeping a list of thoughts, tasks and projects.  This list is a parking place for the interrupting thoughts and ideas that come up as I’m working on other things.  Writing these down in one consistent place allows my mind to trust that I’ve captured what’s needed so I can leave it for now and switch quickly back to the main task at hand. 

It seems to work best for me to pick two or three priorities each day and focus on those.  Dividing my day’s time into significant chunks to work on those priorities, I can often make noticeable progress. Preparing for the next day, I revisit the list and decide which items are priority then. 

Weekly or so, review the list. Allen says that each item on the list must be “actionable”.  Decide on a next step for each item, and whether that step needs to happen at a certain time or as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that one person can only do a limited number of things. If I continue to let my to-do list grow faster than I can complete projects then eventually some will not happen. It’s better to realize this and say No strategically up front before over committing. Saying No can be difficult but serves everyone better by being realistic about what can be done. 

I certainly have much yet to learn and practice in managing my own time. I hope some of these strategies will help you and that you might join our conversation about how you manage time and priorities.

What is your strategy to focus and get things done?  How do you choose what you will do today?