The Beauty of Catch-All Days
At the end of every week, I put together a list of the things I’m going to do the following week. I’ve got a nice system that lets me stay on track with my responsibilities at home and work. But during the week, I get hundreds of emails with a wide variety of requests and levels of action required before I can file them away. If something takes less than 10 minutes, I do it right away. If something takes hours, I file it in my tasks folder to review and put on a weekly to-do list.
But then there are some things that take somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour. I don't like putting these on the to-do list because the list gets unwieldy (not to mention it stresses me out to see all the stuff I'm supposed to be doing). And if I try to do them every day, they distract me from my bigger projects.
So I have a catch-all day. Well, actually, it's an afternoon. Every Friday afternoon, when I can't start on a big project and I don't have the motivation to do some in-depth research or writing, I do all the things that came up during the week. If there is no good reason to postpone completing the task, it happens that Friday regardless of its official due date.
So, as an example, last Friday afternoon, I did mandatory sexual harassment training, put together a panel, wrote a recommendation letter, wrote a blurb for a colleague's book, and planned out a research trip to Canberra. This week I'll be putting together a conference proposal, submitting research reimbursement requests, writing a one-page response to a government agency query, preparing the inputs for my officer performance report, and booking plane tickets and accommodation for a family trip to New Zealand. Other tasks that fall in this category include things like practicing presentations, writing reviews, signing contracts, sending bios for events, reviewing proofs – the list goes on and on.
Besides helping you stay on track and not distracting you from the big picture, having a catch-all day helps you cap how much of this type of work you do. When a colleague asked me for a blurb for his book, I said I would do it if there were time on my catch-all day. If I had run out of time, I wouldn't have pushed it to the following week. I would have sent my regrets. So for certain things I'd like to do, but that aren't necessary, I only do them if that week there is the time during the catch-all day.
So if you are interested in giving it a try, file away into your weekly catch-all folder any tasks that take between 20 minutes and 1 hour that can be done this week, chose your catch-all day, put on an epic playlist and then power through. I do the same for my family/personal admin, but that's a blog post for another day.