Essays and Stories
by Seyed P. Razavi

Getting Things Done

or How I stopped worrying and embraced change

Sometime back in 2015, I decided that I would push myself to pursue full-time university study whilst continuing on a fairly demanding career. Like any good engineer, taking on a new, uncertain project: I prototyped. I enrolled on to various free online courses and decided I would be part of that rare 3% or so that actually finished one. It was useful to find out what it would take to stay motivated; how to get organised. When full-time studies started, I was prepared to deal with the troughs of enthusiasm, the inevitable crunches in available time and the overloading of commitments. Of course, "life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Before you start on any journey, know yourself

I learned you need to know what in your life is non-negotiable and how to be flexible about everything else. For me, there are as many truly important things I can’t do without as there are fingers on one hand. Everything else, I can deal with being parked until the future or simply left to fade in the background. Knowing this made possible the sacrifices needed to achieve something bigger than just living day-to-day.

I learned that good habits are easier to keep than good intentions. I become super excited when I start thinking about some new project or new topic I’m going to be learning. I know this will not last. I try to capitalise on that initial enthusiasm by developing the useful habits that will be there when that initial buzz fades.

If you’re trying to do a lot, you need to be good about slotting things into the in-between times of the day. It is rare to have nice, long blocs of tranquility: use those times wisely. For me studying had to become as habitual and flexible as chewing gum.

Planning is the good in of itself

Every time I hit a block of concentration, in which I couldn't take in another idea, regardless of how interesting it might have been, I used the time to make plans. I plotted my week’s worth of studying or arranged work and family goals. Plans are fluid but the planning activity settles the mind; it reminds me what is possible in the short-term and lets long-term desires propel me onwards.

I Kanban-board all the things using [Trello]( I have boards for studying, reading, for work and family tasks. I use lists to forgive myself for having dozens of fascinating papers and books to read but not quite the time to read them all right now. I collate burning ideas for rainy days and make reminders so that I pray; to be thankful for all the blessings I have received. _If we don’t know how we got here, how can we keep moving forward?_

Time for goals not tasks

I use one calendar app to rule them all. It lives on both my phone and laptop, it has my personal, work, university and social calendars synced with my wife’s. I block out time in the week to achieve goals, not for specific tasks. I liberated myself from the sense of failure in completing tasks when I stopped time-boxing for activities and instead focused instead on how I wanted to spend my life.

The calendar focuses my mind on how I use my time but its not a prison. Its important to know when to clear the day or make space for what’s important. Its OK to give yourself a break and hang out with friends or spend a sunny day in the park.

Get to inbox zero

Nothing sucks up the day quite like information inflows (inboxes); leaving you wondering where did the day go? Email is the classic example but Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are all the same way except less directed at you: you’re just on the receiving end of a never-ending flood of information. If you don’t tame it, it will wash away your day.

Whatever the medium, anyone wanting to get things done needs to work out a way to [inbox zero]( as quickly as possible and then devote a set amount of time to keep it that way.

Nowadays email apps like Google’s Inbox or Microsoft Outlook provide inbox zero functionality. They’re great once you’re on them and spent time dealing with the backlog.

The truth about inboxes is that unless its a spouse or boss asking for something directly it doesn’t need to be dealt with right now. If you’re just a CC and its not screaming at you to involve yourself, archive it. Got emails from more than a month ago in your inbox? If its not about your future holiday or family coming to visit, archive it. You’re fooling no-one, that is never going to get done. The world will go on turning with or without you; give yourself a chance to breathe.

Funnel information to avoid time-wasters

I like to stay on top of what is going on in my field and I’m interested in new ideas. I follow about 100 blogs and I couldn’t do it without [feedly]( and [pocket]( I scan the feedly articles and send anything I think is worth reading to pocket. I leave a bit of time before starting to read them and often, I find that a second glance after a short interval means I don’t waste time reading something that wasn’t really worth the effort. If you want to free yourself of time wasting click-bait, put it in a reading queue and give your better angels a chance to "just say no".

I limit my feedly scanning and pocket reading to dead times and short intervals that can’t be used for anything more productive. I admit it: sometimes, I let my mind get mushy late at night reading nonsense on Facebook and Twitter when I want to unwind; but never take it to bed. If you’re on a screen right before you try to sleep, don’t be surprised if you have a fitful night with little peace.

Everything changes

Over the past year, the above has served me well. In fact, its been transformative. When our boy arrived, knowing he was definitely one of the most important things in my life, it wasn’t like my entire system came crashing down. I had to get a couple of extensions to assignments but it was possible to still write them and care for my family. I archived without reading lots of emails I was CC’d on and blog posts that I’m sure I could live without. I was blessed with paid paternity leave to let me adjust to the sleepless nights and more importantly, spending these precious early days with our growing family.

Life is constantly amazing and surprising. Its rare to find old people who look back and wonder why they did not get more done. What they regret is the wasted opportunities to build and enjoy relationships. Its good to remember the important things in life as time goes by.