[I'll finish writing this article when I have a chance. Just kidding...]
There comes a time in everyone’s life when, likely thanks to the screw-ups of nearby idiots, you have so much stuff to do that there’s no way you can possibly do all of it without violating the fundamental temporal laws of our time-space continuum (more on how to do that another day). I’ve had a lot of experience in this area. Thanks mostly to my inability to say no to people, I’ve found myself with a workload approximate equivalent to three full-time jobs. Fortunately I enjoy most of the work I’ve volunteered to do (in addition to my regular day job, which is work I have to do because I like to eat and not freeze under a bridge). Unfortunately my day now consists of waking up in the morning, working, sometimes eating, occasionally offering my services to the CIA as part of their international sting operation to take down the secret President of Antarctica, and then going to sleep for 43 seconds before repeating the whole cycle.
When faced with such overwhelming amounts of “stuff to do,” I find that normal strategies for “getting things done”. (about which there exists over 800 books of material) or “hacking my life” (as they say on the internet) just won’t cut it. But I have found the following strategies applicable to almost every occasion when I’m in a time crunch, so perhaps we’ll call this set of strategies something like “time-saving tidbits” or maybe “shut up Nick and get on with the damn list already; you’d probably have more time if you didn’t open all of your articles with such long introductions; we’re just here for the bulleted lists anyway.”
- Write your to-do list on a slice of ham. As you complete tasks, instead of checking off the items, simply eat that part of the ham slice. This way you’ll save time by managing your task list at the same time you eat. For writing on ham, I would suggest using either a sharp knife to carve the words or a squeeze tube of cake frosting to inscribe them.
- Set your e-mail to auto-reply with a more useful message. It’s always a good idea to ignore your e-mail when you’re trying to do real work, but you should consider going a step further. Try setting an auto-reply message to something like: “If you are receiving this e-mail, then I have been captured by psychotic kidnappers who won’t release me until you’ve performed the following tasks: 1. Go to the store and get some bread. 2. Pick up my kids from soccer practice. 3. Take out the trash. Please save me!”
- Learn to write or type two items simultaneously. It is a difficult skill to master, but it is possible to split your brain into two fully functional yet independent units, each one capable of addressing a separate task. I’ve gotten pretty good at it myself. For example, right now, while my left hand is typing this article, my right hand is writing a letter to the editor of my favorite magazine. Thanks to some advanced intelligence training I’ve had, I am able to perform both tasks at the same time without error.
- Dear Highlights Magazine, I’ve been a loyal reader of yours for 20 years, but I’m afraid I must finally address an issue with your magazine that has bothered me for quite some time. You see, I understand that your characters Goofus and Gallant are supposed to help children learn the difference between right and wrong. What I don’t understand is why Goofus, the character who is always wrong, looks exactly like me. I kindly request that you change the appearance of Goofus to a more accurate depiction of a person who is likely to be wrong all of the time. Included with this e-mail are several pictures of my friends, family, and co-workers so that you have a wide variety from which to choose. Sincerely, Nick.
- Do a half-assed job if possible. This strategy serves two purposes. One, it helps you get things done quicker. Two, it helps ensure nobody will ask for your help again in the future. This is not a strategy you should employ with any sort of paying job, assuming you are like me and are a fan of living.
- Do something else instead. Yes, you have a to-do list with 47 items on it. One of those items is definitely not “take up ballet.” So you know what you should do? That’s right, you take up ballet and you kick its ass. You’ll find that breaking out of the rigid structure of to-do lists and schedules can reset your mind, help improve your focus, and rebuild your resolve.
- Let fate decide. When you have enough time to do five things but you have seven things to do, simply write each item on a piece of paper, drop them in a hat, pull them out one by one, and leave it to chance what you get done. Of course, it took you two hours to find a pen, paper, and a hat, so now you only have time to do three things. Nice job, slowpoke.
- Give up. Okay, hear me out. If you really, truly cannot possibly get done everything you need to do in the time alloted, and there’s nothing you can do about it, then you must throw in the towel on some things so you can salvage the others. If your to-do list includes picking up the kids from school, going grocery shopping, and filing your taxes—you know what, those kids have legs and can walk themselves home.
- In the name of all that is holy, stop accepting more work. I wish I’d learned this one a lot sooner, but I’ve had to basically say no to any new requests for assistance until I complete the projects I already have. It helps a lot to have somebody (especially a spouse) help you enforce this. If you know you’re going to be in the position of being asked to do something, bring your helper along so he or she can interject when your assistance is requested and say, “No! You’re not allowed to take on any more projects, and that’s final.” And then you say “Yes, dear,” and everything is great.
- Ask for help. I have an even worse problem with this one, but I have a good reason: I am a hardcore “do it yourself if you want it done right” kind of person. So don’t learn from my example. Instead, find a group of people you trust to do at least as decent a job as if you were to half-ass it yourself, and ask them for help. If you ask them to paint your house blue and they paint it green, take into consideration that you probably would have fallen off the ladder anyway.
Now that I can cross “Write today’s article” off my to-do list, it’s on to the next item: shovel snow from sidewalk. Hmm… I think I’ll take up ballet instead. Watch me plié and pirouette!
(New item on to-do list: schedule doctor’s appointment for dislocated leg.)