Top tips for getting things done

  1. Five Minute Rule: if a task will take you five minutes or less to do, do it straight away.
  2. As well as using a calendar to record meetings, use it to block in time for doing particular tasks.  This will help you estimate how much of the rest of the day you have free, and help you avoid scheduling meetings at points when you have a lot of other projects to work on.  If you share your calendar with colleagues, you can mark these blocks of time as ‘Private’ so that only you can read the details of your appointment.
  3. Do your most difficult tasks at the time of day when you are most alert – for me, this is mornings.  I save more routine jobs for the afternoons when I am feeling less energetic.
  4. Spend the last 15 minutes of your day preparing to hit the ground running tomorrow morning.  I like to ensure my desk is tidy and my tasks for tomorrow are planned so that I know where to begin when I arrive in the morning.

Use tools to remember things so you don’t have to:

  1. Create folders for your sent emails: mine are called ‘Awaiting Reply’ and ‘Finished’.  Most emails I send are moved to the ‘Finished’ folder, but if I need to make sure the message is followed up, I put it in ‘Awaiting Reply’.  A few times a week, I check over what’s in the ‘Awaiting Reply’ folder and either move it to ‘Finished’ or chase up the person if they haven’t yet replied.
  2. Use a to-do list such as Tasks in MS Outlook.  Give each task a due date.  If the due date comes and there are more urgent things to do, bump the task to another future date but add to the notes field that you’ve done so.  When it comes around again, either (a) do it! or (b) move it to your ‘Dream list of non-urgent things to do when I have more time/money/staff’ or (c) if it really doesn’t need to be done, delete it.

Wrangle your email:

  1. Use rules to automatically move emails (especially from distribution lists) into folders.  Catch up on that folder once a few messages have accumulated – they are unlikely to be urgent.
  2. Aim for Inbox Zero: having read each message in your inbox, decide if it needs (a) just to be read, (b) a reply or (c) a longer action – then (a) move it to a folder, (b) do it or (c) add it to your tasks list.

Most important of all, be prepared to change your plans when circumstances change.  Some days it’s not possible to get everything done, especially when other things crop up, as they always will.  Be kind to yourself if you fall short of your ideal organised self, and start fresh the next day.


  1. Hi Laura, I fully agree with your tips.
    I would just add a general warning to those approaching “scientific” time management for the first time: don’t overstimate your ability to estimate how much time each task would take.
    Planning is guessing, as J. Fried wrote in Re-Work. Be prepared to be wrong!

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