Each quarter, our wellness team tries and reviews a popular wellness trend. This quarter, we're trying time management strategies, and Holly and Brittany are trying to eliminate decision fatigue.
Eliminating Decision Fatigue
Wellness Tries is a quarterly series in which members of the UF-UF Health Wellness Team try out different wellness trends. This quarter’s theme is time management.
This week’s time management strategies focus on eliminating decisions. Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. This can happen gradually over time. Decision fatigue can cause a variety of problems, one of which is decision avoidance – when that one challenging task stays on your to-do list for weeks. The best way to combat decision fatigue, and decision avoidance, is to eliminate unnecessary decisions whenever you can.
Two time management strategies that focus on decision elimination are the box method and task batching.
Holly Tries the Box Method
How I Worked Before
My work method before incorporating this project consisted of very long, handwritten to-do lists. I kept one running to-do list for everything work-related. All projects and tasks went on one list with stars and lines identifying more important or time-sensitive tasks. I thought this would save me from missing tasks if I had a different list for each project or save me time from sorting tasks out into categories. However, it seemed like I spent quite a bit of time always reviewing my list trying to find the next task I needed to complete. Maybe sorting the tasks once would have saved time spent reviewing my to-do list every hour of the workday!
What Is the Box Method?
The Box Method, also called the Eisenhower Matrix, is a technique used to organize to-do lists or a set of tasks into categories of prioritization. The Box Method was developed by the 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, to masterfully manage his enormous task load over the course of his two presidencies.
The Box Method allows you to sort your tasks into four separate categories based on importance and urgency. The intention to eliminate the guess work of deciding which task needs to be completed next in order to reach your end goal.
- Important, Urgent: Do immediately. These are the highest priority items that need to be completed first. These should be the items that will have your primary focus.
- Important, Not urgent: Schedule time to do later. These are items that you need to schedule time to complete. Tip: schedule time in your calendar to work on these items and treat it like a meeting.
- Not Important, Urgent: Delegate. These are items that are less important to you, but may be important to others and are time sensitive. These tasks can be delegated to someone else or may be completed after you finish your first priority tasks. Examples: answering emails, returning phone calls, updating a flyer, etc.
- Not Important, Not Urgent: Do later, ignore for now, delete. These items are ones that you can eliminate for now as they are not a priority for helping you reach your goal. Depending on what you have on your to-do list, these items can be distractors.
You can use this method however you see fit in your life whether for larger or small goals or professional or personal purposes. A rule of thumb is to only have about 8-10 things in each box at a time. Any more than that can be overwhelming.
How Did It Go?
I tried the Box Method at work for two weeks. It was surprisingly difficult for me to categorize my to-do list into the four categories at first. I took quite some time deciding where I wanted to place everything. Some boxes were filled more than others and it seemed like I wasn’t adding anything to the ‘delete’ box. I eventually ended up using a regular to-do list by day three of the first week.
At the end of the first week I had a bit of extra time so I put in some more thought and research into the Box Method. I tweaked it a bit to my style and conformed my box to how I thought it would help me categorize my items a bit easier, while keeping to the main principles of the Box Method. With these changes, I was able to approach the box with a different mindset and week two was easier. Here’s how week 2 went:
- Important, Urgent: Do Immediately.
- For me, these tasks are usually the bigger projects so I would break down my projects into smaller, more manageable parts if possible and categorize them as applicable. I felt like I put more than I should have in this category.
- Important, Not urgent: Schedule time to do later.
- As someone who tends to lean towards procrastination, this section was a bit tricky. I was hesitant to put items in this box because I didn’t want to schedule over them or dismiss the calendar reminder and tell myself “I’ll get to it later” if I was working on something else. I was able to stick with it twice during this week, but I am skeptical that I will stick to this in the future.
- Not Important, Urgent:
- In my job, I don’t have many tasks I am able to delegate. I tweaked this to be my “delegate or do later” box. We all have things that suddenly come up throughout the day that we will have to drop what we are doing to complete due to time sensitivity. If we don’t have the capability to delegate, then we must find the time to complete the task. This included me having to push back my scheduled time for a task from box two to complete an item that unfortunately came up last minute.
- Not Important, Not Urgent:
- I didn’t use this box as intended. It was intended to eliminate or delete items off your to-do list and I felt as if I never had anything on my to-do list that was unnecessary. I used this for things that were very miniscule or minor, things like organizing the files in a particular folder or organizing my inbox. I also used it for long term things I didn’t want to forget that I wanted to keep on my radar.
There are many printable templates online of the Box Method or you can display it on a dry-erase board. However, I ended up drawing the box on a sheet of paper with a marker, slipping it in a page protector and used a small dry-erase marker to write down my tasks. Having this visual was nice; once you knew the layout of the box, it was simple and easy to know where exactly to look to find what to do next.
Will I Continue Using the Box Method?
Now that I have figured out how to make the Box Method work for me, I think I would use this moving forward. My only hesitancy is the time it takes sorting things into the categories. I felt like I struggled placing the tasks in boxes and wasn’t quite sure where everything would fit. However, I think that is more of a learning curve. It is important to learn that there are no right or wrong answers here; it is your box, you can change things at any time. That may be the hardest lesson for me to learn throughout this project. Based on the research I have seen with the Box Method, it seems like consistency is the key here though. The more you practice and stick with this method, the easier it will become to categorize your items.
Would I recommend the Box Method? Of course! Just know that you can personalize it as much as you need to make it fit your lifestyle or your needs. If you are trying to reach your goals and aren’t sure where to start, break down the larger pieces into smaller, more manageable ones and assign them to a category. You might surprise yourself with just how much you will get accomplished!
Brittany Tries Task Batching
How I Worked Before
Before starting this new time management strategy, I was struggling to prioritize long-term projects. I’d find myself putting out the smaller, more immediate “fires” and focusing less energy on those bigger, more time-intensive programs. When a due date rolled around, I would often dedicate a huge chunk of the day to these long-term projects. As you might imagine, this is not a sustainable approach, and it doesn’t always lead to high-quality outcomes!
What is Task Batching?
Task batching is a style of time management that works by grouping similar tasks together. For example, you’re reading and responding to emails for a set time block, you’re making phone calls during a set time block, you’re working on a specific project for a set time block. This eliminates excessive decision-making because you’re setting up your day before it begins. There’s no wondering “what do I do next?” or “what is my biggest priority right now?” because you’ve already decided.
Here’s how to task batch:
- List and prioritize your to-dos. It helps to think about your goals for the week, that way you aren’t overlooking any of those long-term projects that need attention. Once you’ve done that, you can prioritize your tasks for one day.
- Break down large projects. Make your tasks specific so they can be grouped with similar tasks, and if you have a project with multiple steps, break it down into smaller manageable steps.
- Label each task by function. You can do this with color-coding or any system that works for you. Group tasks according to how much effort and focus they require. For example, researching might be a high-effort task, whereas replying to emails might be low-effort. This categorizing is going to be highly specific to the kind of work you do!
- Organize your schedule. Build blocks of tasks with similar functions into your schedule. If you’re usually low on energy and focus after a weekly 2-hour meeting, don’t schedule your high-focus tasks after that meeting. Think about what schedule will work for you.
As you do task-batching, you will probably need to pay attention to how much time certain tasks take, and whether or not you find yourself getting distracted or unfocused doing the tasks, and adjust your schedule accordingly. This is why it’s better to schedule out one day at a time instead of your entire week, that way if there are unexpected projects or certain tasks that take longer than you anticipated, you still have that flexibility in your batches!
How Did It Go?
I tried task-batching for about 3 weeks. For the first week, I was still working from home. We returned to the office during the second week of my task-batching experiment. This time management technique helped me stay on-task when returning to the office. I broke my tasks down into different categories, based on how I know I work.
- Emails: Like most office jobs, especially during this age of social distancing, most of my communications happen over email. I find myself frequently being pulled away from high-focus tasks by emails, so I decided to pre-select three different time blocks for email checking: one in the morning, one around midday, and one towards the end of the day. I realized quickly that I needed a better organization system for my emails in order for this to work, so I spent some time during the first week setting up folders to categorize emails and keep my inbox clear. This was incredibly impactful on my productivity and organization, and I will keep this system in place moving forward.
- High-Focus Tasks: These tasks included projects like data evaluation or writing. For me, these tasks go one of two ways: I put it off until the last minute because I know it will require a lot of focus, or I end up working on it for several consecutive hours because I’m so focused on it; there’s usually no in-between. The task-batching strategy required me to decide how much time I would spend on these tasks and spread it out over the week so I didn’t get caught in those traps. I usually scheduled these tasks first thing in the morning, because that’s when my focus is the best.
- Website Tasks: A lot of my day-to-day job is keeping the GatorCare website up-to-date with recordings, upcoming presentations, and other important information. These tasks don’t require a lot of focus, but I do need to make sure I’m doing them daily. I usually scheduled these tasks after meetings or higher-focus tasks, as a kind of “mental break.”
- Creative Tasks: Another big part of my work is creating health education materials. This could be flyers, attractive email layouts, presentations, or newsletter graphics. I find creative design work to be really fun and challenging, and because of that it usually gives me an energy boost. I tried to schedule these tasks in the afternoon, when I often hit a “wall” at work and struggle to get things done.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of everything I do, but it was my general guide for scheduling most of my days. Of course, you can’t always predict exactly how your day is going to go. There will be unexpected projects, meetings, and priorities that pop up throughout the week, and because of this, my days almost never went go according to plan. But it was nice to be able to look to my task-batching plan as a guide whenever I did get off-track.
Will I Continue Task Batching?
While it helped me stay on task and keep long-term projects front-of-mind, I felt that this style led me to take fewer breaks, and sometimes overlooking tasks that didn’t fit into a predefined “category.” However, there were a few aspects of task-batching I found valuable and plan to continue using:
- The main benefit I got from task-batching was deciding ahead of time how I was spending my day (eliminating decisions), so I will continue doing that in a less rigid way moving forward.
- I also felt that only checking my email at certain times of the day had a huge impact on my productivity and focus. Keeping my inbox clear also prevented me from getting distracted by other tasks.
- Scheduling time to work on long-term projects instead of either letting them sit on the backburner or letting them take up too much of my day was also great for my productivity and helped alleviate stress related to these projects.
My official recommendation? Give task-batching a shot. Depending on the kind of job you have and the way you like to work, certain aspects of task-batching might really resonate with you!