Last week, we talked about Ivy Lee, the management consultant whose one time-management suggestion garnered him the equivalent of several hundred thousand modern-day dollars. Pick the six most important things for the day and stick with them until they are done. For many years, I have encouraged people to identify the “Fab 5” and do so the night before. But how do you handle the details?

Concentrating on the “Fab 5” ensures the most important, most critical tasks are handled. But what about everything else?

So which is it, the “Fab 5” or the trivial many?

Many authors and speakers in the time management space make you feel that if you spend any time on the mundane things in life, you’re a slacker. Books such as Cal Newport’s Deep Work advocate concentrating on that which takes time and concentration.

That’s fine, but what about all those little things that keep our lives going? I doubt “wash the dishes” is going to be on anybody’s “Fab 5” for the day. But at some point, the dishes have to be washed and the dishwasher emptied. The same holds true for tons of small, maintenance tasks both at home and work.

For you and me, it’s not “either/or.” We’re responsible for both the big things and the small things. How do we get it all done? This article provides some ideas.

Alternate days

Think about the last time you spent all day on an important project. You ignored the email and the phone. Colleagues found your door closed and you left the U.S. mail in a pile untouched. You felt a great deal of accomplishment. At the same time, you also fell behind on some other things.

Use the following day to catch up. Attack the email going from top to bottom. Work through the stack of mail and add “to-dos” to your list based on its contents. Clear voicemail with your task list in hand and add those calls which need to be returned.

At home, empty the dishwasher and handle a bunch of the “little things.” Put everything back in its place. Today is the day you “clear the decks” and get ready for a fabulous tomorrow.

Batch related items to handle the details

Task switching is the enemy of productivity. Sticking with one task until completion led to a successful day as you accomplished the “Fab 5.” Likewise, on those catch-up days, stick with the same type of task.

Run all the errands back-to-back. File every loose piece of paper. Make decisions about all the little things you put off yesterday.

Automate & delegate what you can

Look at the tasks which repeat. One way to save time on them is for them to be handled by someone else. What other family member could be responsible for the dishes? Automated bill paying is one example of using technology to eliminate repetitive tasks.

For the things you will wind up doing, record repeating tasks in a digital task list. The list brings tasks to your attention at the right time.

Reuse previous work to avoid the “blank page”

How many times do you respond to the same type of question via email? Once you craft a good response, use it next time. Instead of crafting a fresh proposal for every new client, use a template and grab relevant parts from a similar proposal.

Multitask with caution

Multitasking is generally not a good thing. People who think they can do two things at once generally wind up doing two things equally poorly. But when you have two things that don’t require concentration, multitasking is a time saver. When you’re placed on hold during that call, crank through some email. Listen to a podcast while you sort the mail. Walk on the treadmill while watching a TV program you recorded.

Clearing the decks” makes the big things easier

When the little things are handled, it’s amazing the weight you feel lifted from your shoulders and the amount of stress that’s no longer there. With the little things handled, you’re focused and ready to handle the big things and seize the day.

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”

Alvin Toffler

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