Last month I presented my Clutter Busters class to a couple of different audiences. Both times I used the picture above in my presentation.

Now time management usually isn’t quite as exciting as a romantic, candlelit dinner for two so I needed to grab your attention.  But, just like you might not want to start an intimate relationship without knowing your true desires and relationship goals for your future, I’m going to say the same motto goes for tasks that you shouldn’t start without considering your consequences considering the true length of time it might take to really get the task done correctly.

Let’s use both physical mail and email as our examples for “Don’t Touch Me Unless You Mean It”. As a CPO® I often see lots of opened and unopened mail in my clients’ homes. And if we look at their computers, I will also see dozens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of emails in their inbox. They too are both opened and unopened digital mail. How does this happen? Because people touched it without completing it.  The bottom line is they did not (whether by accident or on purpose) set aside enough time to make appropriate decisions and follow up on what to do with each item. This of course means they also didn’t delete the email either. So there it sits…

What happens in both the physical and digital scenarios is a person cherry picks through her mail only addressing a few pieces and leaving the rest. It would be the same as a person choosing a few clean clothes out of the laundry basket instead of putting away the entire basket of clean clothes or going into a clean dishwasher for your favorite coffee mug and hoping someone else in the house will empty the dishwasher on your behalf!

We all do this from time to time so don’t be so hard on yourself but understand this… we are starting a task without finishing it, which means we have to go back to it again (and sometimes again and again and again) in order to bring closure to that “To Do” item. And sometimes, like in this case with the mail, we have to reread again, think again, and make a decision again turning this task into a time management trap. This poor organizing skill can unfortunately turn into a bad habit. So how do we avoid this trap?

SOLUTION: Time Estimates and Time Blocking

Decide in advance when you are going to “touch the tasks” as well as complete them giving you the opportunity to “Touch Me Because You Mean It!”. First, figure out how long you believe the chore will take and then second, schedule that amount of time into your day, week, month, however it makes sense to you.

For example, if you feel the snail mail will take you 10 minutes a day maybe you decide to process your mail daily after dinner. Consider your energy level and desire for this task. Maybe you hate dealing with mail during the week but would be open to an hour on Saturday morning with your second cup of coffee.

Email might be much more of a time monster for you to tackle. What is your time estimate for this job? Is this personal, professional or both kinds of digital mail? What if you think you truly might need three hours a day for this duty? Then where in your work and personal day will you do this? Should you block out three 1-hour segments strategically spaced apart? Might you think two 1-1/2 hours blocks would work better?

The good news is you can play around with these two concepts, time estimating and time blocking, until you tweak what works best for you. Only one final word on my end – you should schedule the estimated time slot on your calendar and then at the appointed time, do what you say you’re going to do and finish it.

If you decide not to follow this organizer’s advice… here’s what might just happen:

  • You may not complete your daily To-Do’s by the end of the day
  • You may not get to work on goals or long-term projects
  • You might end up procrastinating
  • You may end up constantly redirecting your thoughts back to the task at hand after becoming interrupted, sidetracked or time hijacked
  • It might be difficult to bring meetings, projects, events, vacations, visits etc. to closure leaving loose ends to tie up

Now are you convinced to estimate your To Do’s and time block them on your calendar? Remember, “Don’t Touch Me Unless You Mean It”.