How do you tackle a project/problem/thing you need to get done?
Here's a fun tautology that rings true: different people are different. I think that's what makes this challenge interesting. We all have different tendencies, processes, and tricks for tackling what needs to get done. Here are some of mine.
1. Understand the problem/project/thing
I spent so much of my life skipping this step before I realized how crucial it was to being successful. Clarifying the problem and your goal before acting is so important!
2. See if heuristics apply. If so, apply away.
One of my favorite heuristics is: if it'll take less than 5 minutes, do it now. This is a great way to get those annoying little tasks done and to save yourself from endless spirals of "I've been meaning to..."
3. If heuristics don't apply, try to classify the project according to a time management matrix.
My boss's boss showed me this, and I think it's a fantastic way to manage my time. To create the matrix, you plot importance and urgency on an xy plane. This helps you to suss out how critical your tasks are relative to each other.
4. Think about all the activities collectively and try to make a schedule
I'm a big planner, so having a general idea of when I plan to tackle different challenges helps me feel productive and satisfied.
5. Prioritize activities that require collaboration as an input
Managing other peoples' time on top of my own is a game I don't want to play. To avoid any snafus, I try to get inputs from others as early as possible. Otherwise, they can hold up the entire project (and I'm powerless to stop it).
6. While working, take breaks to walk around or watch a YouTube video
I'm very good at multitasking, but sometimes I have a hard time staying focused on one task for long periods of time. To address this, I "reward" myself with little breaks of videos or trips to the water machine (I try to avoid using snacks as a reward outside of desperate times, to avoid making bad habits).
7. Pause for random moments of daydreaming or chores
Some of my tasks are more rote than others. For things like data cleaning, project coordination, peer review, or editing/revision of code or surveys, I can complete my work relatively quickly and without expending too much brain energy. For tasks that require more thought, if I've learned one thing about myself, it's that inspiration/the answer to my problems will be found by 1) doing lots of preliminary research, 2) talking to experts/good resources, and 3) giving myself time to take everything in. Sometimes I have to stop actively thinking about things and be patient while the idea comes to me.
8. Do tasks that require thought in stages
For me, this most often applies to writing. I do a lot of writing at work, and I like to volunteer for projects that involve writing because it's something I enjoy. I find that I write best when I write in drafts. My first drafts are often very rudimentary, but they allow me to put my thoughts on paper and get the creative juices flowing. Then, I can produce more elaborate second drafts before giving a final read-through. I try to make sure to leave time between each draft, as good ideas come with reflection.
9. Hold myself accountable by communicating deadlines to colleagues
I wish I were at my most productive when only beholden to myself. The reality is that I'm more likely to meet my deadlines when I share them with other people.
10. To avoid procrastination, be explicit about the "how"
I try not to procrastinate too often, and I'm usually good at making incremental progress towards my objectives. Procrastination can hit though, just like for anyone else. A friend once told me that we procrastinate because we think we can't do something, and I think this is pretty true. I know that the tasks I procrastinate are the ones that are most complicated, or those that require the most brain power. To help with this, I try to create explicit plans of "attack" where I think about exactly what steps I need to take to complete a task. Then, I can start checking them off one by one.