Time management (*** list alert ***)

get everything doneAs most of you know, diary work is one of my most favourite of activities. This is because seeing a full diary means I have plenty of work in and gaps identify gaps in the work. I’ve always filled in my diary with a pencil, as this can easily be rubbed out if (a) a job is cancelled, (b) priorities change, or (bad) (c) I just don’t get around to doing it. I’d rather rub out a job and write what I actually did than put a cross next to it. However, now I’m wondering if pencil isn’t the best thing as it’s actually too easy to just rub something out I didn’t feel like doing today.

I’ve always been very organised in my approach to work. When I was a very busy and prolific freelancer, back in the day, I needed to be organised. And that organisation included all of the mundane work too, such as admin, pc maintenance, finance work, filing … (which, actually, often gets rubbed out and left), and so on. But I’ve also been an absolutely superb procrastinator.

Emails, daily competitions, Facebook, surfing the internet, playing games – all come very easily to me regardless of whether or not my diary is chock-solid-full. But rubbing yet another job out because I’ve not got around to it, for whatever reason, isn’t very good feng shui for the soul, if you get my drift. And it can have a debilitating effect on motivation.

The diary was my best ever work tool. It enabled me to list work that needs doing, and then tick it as I went along doing it – ticks are ace motivators. And adding “fun” tasks meant I did them for that time only, moved on, but still remained happy. When I got really good at it, I started to allocate time slots to specific tasks. But I want to stop using that rubber (eraser). I want more ticks and more output. I work in a lovely environment, with a gorgeous view, comfortable ergonomic furniture, the latest technology, and a very supportive and enthusiastic partner, who also just happens to be my number one fan.

But something needs to change.

I’m editing a book for a client at the moment on revision and study skills, and on Monday I got to the part where he recommended a time management book: GET EVERYTHING DONE, AND STILL HAVE TIME TO PLAY by Mark Forster. So, being the great procrastinator that I am, I went to have a look. And I liked what I saw. And so I bought it. And I read the introduction, at the end of which is the author’s very first exercise, which I’m going to précis here (and I’m not doing him out of any book sales, this exercise is clearly available via the “look inside” function on Amazon) (and, anyway, there’s loads more juicy material in there for you to discover for yourselves).

He calls it an exercise in mental strength. Basically, at the end of each day you choose just one task to do tomorrow. Then tomorrow, even if you do nothing else, you do this one thing. If you don’t do it, then it’s too difficult, and you need to choose something easier; if you do manage it, then you can choose something similar at the end of that day, and so on, increasing the difficulty as you go. Then, when you find you’re completing every single task quite competently, you add another to it, giving yourself 2 tasks to complete the following day. And so on, until you’re setting 3 tasks, and 4 tasks, and so on, until you’re just doing stuff anyway and no longer need to do this (unless, of course, you find setting tasks in this manner gets things successfully done).

So, on Monday evening, I decided that if I didn’t manage anything else from my to do list on Tuesday, I’d empty all the bins in the house and leave those to soak that needed it. (You can apply it to any task, not just work or writing. So I applied it to a household chore.) It was bin day anyway, and I always do put the bin out. But I don’t necessarily go around the house emptying all of the wastepaper bins, usually it’s just the kitchen bin. And I certainly don’t wash them.

And when I’d done that task, I set myself another: wash all the pillow-ticks and the mattress protector in preparation for a new bed we were getting delivered. And hang it on the line to dry.

So, here is how my diary looked yesterday, Tuesday (*** list alert ***):

8:00 housework
9:00 BREAKFAST
10:00 daily competitions
11:00 job boards (2 hours)
1:00 DINNER
2:00 writing work
3:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin
6:00 TEA

Meals are very important to me, so I make sure they’re in capitals. 🙂

Now, this list of jobs would normally have a list of ticks beside it and any details of what I actually did. But with furniture arriving (2 settees and a bed), and with me wanting to assemble said furniture if necessary before the poet came home (so we still had the evening together), already the rubber had come out. However, it was still a very busy day and I still got a very lot done. Here’s the revised list by the end of the day:

8:00 housework – change beds, wash pillow-ticks and mattress cover, hang washing out, bins
 9:00 BREAKFAST
10:00 daily competitions (+ much procrastination once complete)
 11:00 job boards = 3 jobs pitched (2 hours, but much procrastination once done)
1:00 DINNER
2:00 furniture delivery – entertain delivery men, arrange furniture, vacuum carpet
3:00 assemble new bed, make bed (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin (the poet took it out)
6:00 TEA – poet treated me to KFC for working so hard ♥

So, this morning I decided to do it again. I decided that by 9am I would have done some household chore – this time, empty dishwasher. And in my breakfast hour, I would indeed have breakfast, read a chapter of the time management book, get washed and dressed, be at my desk by 10am.

Here’s how today’s diary looked (bear with me):

8:00 housework
9:00 BREAKFAST
10:00 daily competitions
11:00 blog
12:00 writing work
1:00 DINNER
2:00 writing work
3:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin (fetch it in)
6:00 TEA

But with me choosing another task to complete as soon as I completed the previous one, I was actually at my desk by 9:30 and able to bring everything forward a little. Here’s how it looks now:

8:00 housework – empty dishwasher
9:00 BREAKFAST
9:30 daily competitions
10:00 blog
11:00
12:00 writing work
1:00 DINNER
2:00 writing work
3:00 study skills (edit book) (2 hours)
5:00 housework – grey bin (fetch it in)
6:00 TEA

I have a whole hour that’s blank!

Now then, from just 2 extracts from my diary you can see how I structure and balance work, household chores and “fun” tasks to keep me motivated. But you can also see what’s first to fall to the wayside if anything else comes along – writing work and paid work. But today, I’ve completed 2 tasks in half the time I set for them – 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes. And I’ve given myself a whole new hour to play with.

In future, I can probably allocate just 30 minutes to each of “breakfast” (which also includes other activities such as reading) and “daily competitions” (although a Monday may still need the full hour as I’ve the weekend to catch up on). And I won’t sacrifice the “warm-up” things I do at the computer, such as the competitions and write the blog.

So, what to do with that extra hour? And can I also shorten “dinner” to 30 minutes?

There are 2 things I’ve really wanted to do, that I used to do, but that I’ve not done for ages. Years, in fact. One is walk the dog daily; the other is yoga. I could use one of those 30-minute slots for the dog walk, but while the yoga would start at less than 30 minutes, it gradually needs to build up to 60 minutes, but not every day. Another thing I could use the time for, either daily or in between yoga workout days, is self-improvement – study, reading, learning a new skill. Or I could spend more time on the guaranteed paid work or on the writing work.

“Writing work” can consist of anything – novel writing, short story writing, article writing, filler writing, market study, brainstorming ideas, reading (books on the subject I’m writing about, or the era, or the genre, or books on writing), research, editing, proofreading, thinking, lying back and gazing through the window … (honest, us writers are working really very hard when we do that). But it needs to be a priority.

So, while I wonder what to do with these extra time-slots, my question today is this: what would you do with yours?

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