2 Sept 2011

guest post / / time-management

Today's post is from Amanda at Paper Pens Ink; a blog whose name links together what I love so much about stationery (which also includes pretty colours of course if you hadn't already noticed). Anyway, Amanda does so much with her time - I wanted to learn more about efficient time management as I thought I was good - but no, Amanda is better (she juggles so many things, I'm in awe!) and I'll definitely be taking pointers from her post about it; and if you had any sense, you would too ;)

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When I offered to do a post for Angela, I gave her a list of the things that I do (to see what she would like me to write about). Her response was to ask how I managed to do all the things I do and asked me to write about my time-management. So, here goes! I do not profess to be an expert (far from it!); I just do my best (and my parents always told me that as long as I had done my best, people couldn’t ask for more).

I am not a magician (or Doctor Who or a physicist) and I cannot manage time. I can manage what I do with my time, but I cannot actually change the laws of physics! Assuming you are equally ill-equipped to warp the space-time continuum, but still have stuff to do and time available and somehow have to marry them up… let me share some of the tips and tricks I have acquired along the way of my life.

One thing I have always found is that I cannot hope to manage any to-do list unless I have a clear idea about what the whole of that to-do list looks like. Some people have one giant to-do list with everything from the entirety of their life on it, ready to be crossed off. Others have a multitude of lists – one for each area they want to achieve something in. I currently tend to fall into the last camp, but have also happily resided in the former for great swathes of my life! What my list(s) look like has always been less important than what I have done with them. I don’t manage time so much as I try to manage tasks.

“Hang on,” some of you might be saying, “How do we get to that list?”
[if you already have a massive list, skip ahead. If you always feel at sea and like you miss important things, stay with me?]

A few months ago, I was completely adrift and knew that there were huge holes in my time/task-management ‘plan’. Work-related tasks were going just fine, but the rest of my life… hmm. Not so good.
So, I sat down with a big sheet of paper, wrote ‘ME’ in the middle and enclosed the word in a wiggly-line cloud. Then, radiating out from that cloud, I wrote out the different areas of my life: work, hobbies, relationships, etc. In each of those areas I wrote out my goals. Now, I am a really visual-coding kind of person and so I gave each area its own colour, but each to their own! Colour-coding works for me so I can see whether my week is balanced or not.

Now, many a time/task manager will tell you a goal is just a dream without some plans! The goals were where I wanted to get to. Just writing them out wasn’t going to get me there. Working out key steps along the way was needed, just like if I was planning a car journey I would need to know what towns etc I would be going through before reaching my destination.

Goals to key steps/projects

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a first step” – Lao Tzu

With key steps towards my goals organised, the whole planning side of achieving the goal became easier to manage. Key steps got broken down into ‘what do I have to do next’, and each key step had an ‘estimated time to complete’ added to it (some turned out to be pretty realistic, other wildly impossible, but, you live and learn!). I also shifted away from vagueness (sort out the garden shed) and started being more specific (empty the shelving on the left side of the shed and take all the empty tins of paint to the recycling place). My lists were starting to look much more achievable as I realised what I was supposed to be doing. I also run a ‘don’t forget’ list that has all the other stuff I need to do that don’t add up to achieving my goals (e.g., pick up the dry-cleaning; buy stamps). I keep all these lists of goals to key steps to next actions, plus my don’t forget list behind a tab in my filofax, just ahead of my diary.

Key steps to next action list (with estimated time to complete)

Okay, many of you have these lists. Is there a key to fitting all these things into so little time? What do I do to get as much out of the day as I can?

Well, I choose my priorities. I once did an exercise where I had to put all the areas of my life (other than work) in order of priority and say what proportion of my spare (non-work) time I wanted to spend on them. I then had to record, for a week, what I actually spent my time on. Unsurprisingly, they did not match!

According to how I had spent my time, my major priority in life was watching TV, closely followed by browsing aimlessly online and playing Tetris. No wonder I didn’t achieve my goals!

It was clear to me that spending time with friends was more important than watching Friends; writing a blog post was at least as important as reading others. I needed to realign my priorities.

What I do, each week, (almost) without fail, is to book an appointment with myself. I go through all my lists of things that need doing and decide where in my ‘spare’ time they are getting done. Sometimes, that’s just allocating a day to it; sometimes that’s allocating a specific time-slot too.

An example of my weekly list (using scrap filofax pages!)
Colour-coded tasks, plus stuff from ‘Don’t forget’

I keep a filofax with two sets of diary pages in it – a week to view where appointments go (so I have an overview of the week) and a day to page where my day-planning goes. Appointments get transferred from the weekly pages to the daily pages during my planning session. If you work more electronically, you don’t need to do that transfer, just switch views from week to day. Colour-coding my tasks makes sure that time spent on areas reflects the priority they have.

Day-plan, colour-coded to areas and with a list from ‘Don’t forget’ allocated too
Some time-management gurus will say that you shouldn’t allocate specific time to a task in case you get it wrong. I’ve tried that but just putting a list of ‘things to do today’ on my daily schedule usually means I overload myself. I also like to see the size of colour blocks so that I can see where I am spending my time.

Anyway, that’s how I fit my ‘things to do’ into my available time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this and I would love to hear what tips and tricks you all have.

1 comment

  1. I love this post, good work Amanda! I'm just doing one for AllStars too about studying around a full-time job, but mine's quite different to yours! (I think I like your system if breaking down goals into plans. I should do that!)