One of the best things about Monday morning is that you have a huge expanse of time ahead of you. You have the chance to feel productive and successful. At the beginning of Monday morning, anything is possible and the to-do list is a set of items that you will do.  But, Friday afternoon that same is a set of failed promises.

But, often, one’s perception of productivity (or lack thereof) is due to expectations. You are a person, not a machine (no matter what your boss or workplace thinks). Some people can finish things somewhat faster than others. For example, I am a very fast reader. So, if I need to take notes of literature review materials, I can finish the task in less time than someone else. And, of course, we all have our strengths. Ask me to make phone calls, and I will take double the time of a less chatty person. Even with these personal differences in skills and productivity, most people far overestimate what they can accomplish during the work week. I know that I do.

Here is a process that I am using to help myself, 1, finish the most important things first and, 2, be more realistic about what I can accomplish. Imagine rocks in a pot. These are the set of tasks that you can finish in a week. The largest rocks are the ones that you do first; these are the biggest, most important tasks. I find that I can accomplish three in a week. Then going up in importance, I lay out tasks of relative scale and importance. Things like email and voicemail are like the soil. You will need to add a bit per layer. But, not too much, or you won’t have space for the next layer of rocks.

The illustration here is my general work day: 3 big tasks, 5 medium tasks, and 10 small tasks. You might find that you have a different mix. Spend a week with this set of tasks. On Friday, if you have items left undone, draw a different planter on the following Monday. Also, you might have weeks that you HAVE to accomplish more. Draw a bigger planter that week.

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