Quick wins and the Quick Win Hour

Find a few things on your To Do list that won’t take a lot of time and do them. They’re quick wins because without much time and probably without much effort, you’ve knocked some stuff off your list.

It’s like taking baby steps or building up to doing something big except these things were real and they needed to be done so you’ve built up usefully. The sense you have that you’re on your way, you’re getting things sorted out, is real because it is real.

You can’t just do the quick stuff, you have to buckle down to the difficult and the long, but knocking off a few fast tasks is a good way to get yourself started on those.

Some To Do software including OmniFocus lets you say how long you think a task will take. I have never used this. I never will. I just think the time I spend working out time I’ll spend on a task is time I could be spending doing the task. Nonetheless, if you like doing this or it feels more natural to you than it does to me, you can assign approximate times to any or all of your tasks – and then choose to see a list of all those taking 10 minutes or less.

There are also To Do apps that let you assign an energy level to a task. I don’t even know if my OmniFocus does this because I’m not sure where to look. But if your To Do app does this, you could get it show you all the tasks that don’t need much oomph from you. All the ten minute tasks that you can do in your sleep: that’s a To Do list you can knock through quickly.

One thing I do often do is a Quick Win Hour. Take a moment to find ten things on your list or make up ten new things. Whichever it is, you do ten and you do that very, very quickly. Then you set a timer on your phone for one hour and you do all ten.

I’ve done this perhaps half a dozen times over the last two years and only once did I ever complete all ten within the time but, grief, it was close every other time. And despite or maybe because of my being so focused on the ten and the hour, I didn’t really register that each time I was getting up to ten things done off my list.

A bit of this, a bit of that

Today is probably the first day in three months that I have felt on top of things. I’m not. But I feel that I am. And it’s because I did this:

One hour on this project
One hour on that
One hour on the other

It broke down slightly, there were urgent interruptions but having set aside an hour to do something, I did it. As it happens, the first task only took me 37 minutes. I don’t usually count that precisely but I enjoyed the thought that I could take the rest of the hour off so I noticed. And I took it off.

A later hour took 67 minutes, but.

All of the things I am working on took steps forward today and I have to feel good about that. I do admittedly also feel good that I got this idea from my own book, The Blank Screen.

Okay, so I’m feeling on top of things and just a teeny bit smug about that. But join me in smugness, will you? It feels good.

Just do an hour

I’ve said this before but it keeps working for me and it worked again today. After lots of long days and the loss of a lot of hours to meetings, today I just wanted to sleep.

But I took my own advice and did an hour on one job. And hour on another. And a third. I was rubbish: I did the hours but with huge tea-drinking gaps between them. Tea with ginger biscuits. I was rubbish.

And probably getting fatter.

But even under these conditions I’ve reached the end of the day and am further ahead on everything.

So just try an hour, okay? It’s only an hour, it can’t hurt anything / and for me it gets stuff moving and it gets me working.

Push on

I’ve said this before but I happen to work best in hour-long chunks. It took me ages to find that out but it’s true and I try to stick to it now. Except, once you’ve set a timer for sixty minutes and begun working, there comes a time.

It’s usually between thirty and forty minutes into the run when you are spent.

Seriously, you’d give anything to to stop now, that’s enough, I’m out of ideas, it’s all over, surely I’ve been good, I can take the rest of the hour off, please, I’m begging now.

Push on, okay?

I’m saying this to you now because I’ve been reminded of why. I did an hour on a project I’ve been putting off for a while and, yes, just over thirty minutes in, I wanted to stop. I tapped on my iPhone to see how long was left and it was about 26 minutes. Rarely has 26 minutes looked so long.

But I did push on and in those final 26 minutes I pretty much finished the project. Got over the difficult bit, found a clever – I think – solution to an issue, drove on into new territory and found new things. When the timer sounded, I flicked at it to shut the bleedin’ thing up, I’m working.

I do also believe very much in stopping after the hour, in stopping when you are at that full flow. It sounds wrong but if you leave at the top, you come back later ready and rearing to go. If you stop when you fizzle out, you come back pre-fizzled.

But anyway, how great is it that I wanted to continue? This thing I’d been putting off, this thing at with 26 minutes left to go I was thinking kettles and biscuits and breakfast, now I’m on a burn with it and am near-as-dammit finished. That is finished in the writer’s sense of the word where it means finished, yes, but nowhere near done yet. But still, finished.

And because I pushed on to the end of the hour.

I think you can smell the smugness from there and I can only apologise. But it’s worth my looking irritating to you if it makes you try this too – and I think if you try it, it will make you feel this good as well. The only thing I don’t know is whether you need an hour. It’s so right for me, somehow, but plenty of others work best in half-hour sprints or two-hour marathons. Just pick a time, a duration, that’s a bit hard. If it’s easy, you don’t get that half-time slump so you don’t get the chance to rise above it.

I’m all for rising above things, I should do me some more of that, but it’s a combination of the satisfaction of rising above a problem and the resulting liberation that matters. At that 26-minutes-to-go point, I had a problem I couldn’t solve and ended up just trying different approaches until I found one that broke through. After that, I was just slamming down points and ideas and issues and they were coming out of nowhere, or so it seemed. That rush after the dam is fresh and it feels new and good.

‘Course, I’m a writer, I may look at this later and think it’s all nonsense, I can do much better than this tosh. But at least I’ll be thinking I can do much better. And it is always and forever easier to change something on the page than it is to make the first scratches on the paper.

Actually… today was my 245th day of getting up at 5am and it was the hardest in a couple of hundred. I’ve not come so close to turning over and carrying on sleeping since the very earliest of the days. So I pushed on then and I pushed on during the hour. No wonder I reek of smugness.

Sorry about that.