Timing is everything

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It’s easy to make a list of things to do.

Doing them in the right order, though, takes practice and common sense.

My list for today: Go to the gym, drop off some recycling, work on my renovation project, and practise clarinet. The first thing I did was look at the external factors. How late is the recycling depot open? The gym? 5:00 and 6:30, respectively. I combined the trip with the recycling depot with the gym visit, did the drop-offs first, and still had time for a good workout.

Back home, I gave myself a couple of hours of downtime, enough to have a good post-workout meal and then just relax for a while. Eventually I had had enough relaxing and started on the other two items. It made sense to do the renovations next, because I was already in the right part of the house with all the materials near at hand, and it took less than an hour to get a couple of boards in place.

Finally, the clarinet. My studio is on the first floor of the house. So is the kitchen. I got supper into the oven, set a timer, and went to the studio to work on some pieces. When the timer went off I packed up my gear and went to eat.

There’s a natural momentum that happens when your plan includes a sensible workflow. When you’re trying to knock off a bunch of tasks, you don’t get extra points for struggling unnecessarily. It’s best to keep things as simple and as open as possible, not determining every possible detail in advance. I didn’t know, and didn’t care, which machines would be available at the gym. I had no particular plan as to which sections of which pieces needed to be worked on. The most important thing was the big-picture objective: Show up at the gym, and do something. Take out the clarinet and work through a few things.

There are times, of course, when you will need a more specific plan. In my experience, that tends to happen closer to the finish line of a project. When all that remains is to put up one last sheet of drywall, that’s what you do. When there’s a concert on Wednesday and everything is fine except the ending of one piece, that’s where you focus.

In the meantime, go with the spirit of your to-do lists rather than treating them as orders that cannot be contravened. Group tasks in ways that actually make sense to you, and schedule them for the times of day when you’ll have the mental and physical energy to pull it off.

And always remember: If it’s too much, stop and reschedule to another day. Staying up late, fighting to complete a difficult project when you’re exhausted, is for emergency use only.

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