How I manage my time

How I manage my time

I am often asked how I manage my time. Not everything I do would suit everyone but for what it is worth I have started to untangle the topic here.

To be honest I don’t think I do a lot. I do relax and I don’t see myself as someone who is always in frantic ring of activity. I am busy but rarely frantic.

For me a key thing is to clearly figure out what it is I want to achieve and define it. It might be make a quilt, or write a course for joggles.com or join a challenge. Before I embark upon something I do think about it. I don’t think about the size of the project but weather I really want to do it. I ask myself, If a doctor told me I had three months to live would I still want to do this? That’s a crunch question because when I ask myself that question I realise that what ever it is not so important. I had a close call when I was young and now value every single day. I am acutely aware of time and how precious it is.

Once I decide that it is something I want to achieve I set it as a goal and clearly define it. For instance if I decide I want to make a quilt. The goal is not I want to make a quilt but the goal is I want to make a diamond block quilt made up of 69 diamond and 6 half diamonds. In other words I define what ever the goal is very clearly.

I then prioritise the project. Sometimes I have two or three goals that I am working on at any one time but I mentally rank them as to importance. Sometimes the ranking changes. For instance early in the year I was working quite a bit on the diamond quilt but since I have another goal to write lessons via joggles I changed the ranking about a month ago in order to write them. Once this is done I will return to the diamond block quilt. So I prioritise.

Mile by mile, life’s a trial.
Yard by yard, life is hard.
Inch by inch, life’s a cinch.

Next I break any task down into smaller tasks. I am a chipper meaning I chip away at things. With any large project I don’t think of the size of the project too much, as that would put me off I simply set the goal, break it down into smaller chunks and do it bit by bit. For instance the diamond blocks on my quilt are all pieced that was the first step, next I have 69 blocks to embellish. I just focus on one block at a time.

 

I shape my goals in a way that I can see them being done. For instance with blogging my goal is to keep a blog that I enjoy and connects with people. I don’t really sit down and think of it as one big project. I think of it blog post by blog post and bit by bit it has built into this! I just do it consistently and because it is a routine in my life I don’t feel it impinges on other things I do. If when I started to blog I had thought about how big it now is, with (number of posts) it would have felt an immense task that was too big to take on. I would have had to work myself up to face a huge goal like that. But I do not think of it that way. I think of it and just about everything I do in little bits.

Someone once said to me “Set a major goal, but follow a path.” It was good advice. The path is a series on small goals, the big goal was broken down into do-able chunks. For instance with the TAST challenge my goal is to provide a stitch week for a year. Since it is a weekly challenge it is already broken down into 52 stitches. Each week on my to – do list I break it up further into three tasks. Stitch the samples is one task, photograph them is another and write the post is the third. Each of these tasks are listed on my to- do list and then checked off as I do them.

I have a sign pinned to the design board I face in my studio. It reads

A dream is a dream
A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.

I don’t fall into the trap of thinking what will I do now? I make full use of calendars and organisers but by far the best method is a cheap paper office diary and daily to do lists. Every night I take five minutes to plan and jot down what I will do the following day. I try and keep it to about 5 things and that way no one day is overloaded.

 

First thing in the morning I attend to email and blog post but aim to be off the computer by 9. I am reasonably strict about this as there will always be one more interesting site to check out or one more email to answer but the world wont fall apart if I answer it tomorrow. In this time I prioritise what is important and get that done first. So important work related email gets answered before chatty email. I write my blogs and then browse. With both blogs I always have a couple of draft posts written so that if I do not have time for some reason or other I still have something to post.

Some tasks need to become habits. These are the regular repetitive things in life like doing the dishes, washing or tasks like attending to email or other activities like blogging. For me a regular routine ensure that I get things done. If a task becomes part of my daily routine it becomes a habit. So I have times of day that are routinely taken up with habits. Before 9 in the morning is breakfast email and blogging time. Fortunately Jerry my husband keeps a blog and also attends to his email over breakfast. It is companionable as reading newspapers as we talk about news, incoming mail, stuff we have read online etc. Jerry is out the door by 8:30 and if it is a Uni teaching day for me so am I. We have one car so he drops me off on his way to work. If it is a studio day for me then usually by 9 I have whipped around the house for a quick tidy up, dishes done and shower had, then I roll up my sleeves to do what ever is on my to do list.

My point is that some activities can be part of your daily routine others like making a quilt or writing lessons you need to find blocks of time to do them in. I set a routine commencement time for these things. During these blocks of time I don’t have the computer on its too easy to get side tracked checking mail and RSS feeds. I take between half an hour and an hour for lunch a break to do something different. In good weather I am often out in the garden pottering about (not lately its winter here and its cold) I set a timer though I have a cooking timer and I set it for an hour. If I am not in the garden, I sometimes read a book over lunch, other times I do hop online and approve comments, do email and read RSS feeds but when the timer goes I get up and get back to it. The net can be a terrible distraction for me and if I am not careful hours will go by without me realising it (the garden is the same) hence the timer and it works!

Women are particularly good a multitasking and often during the child rearing stage of life they have trained themselves to be so good at it that they forget is how to focus. There are times to multi task and times to focus on getting what ever it is you want to achieve done. Some things are easy to multi task such as putting a load of washing in and letting it run while I attend to mail but other things are single task activities such as designing something. This sort of task requires me to focus on the task at hand, in a sustained manner in order to actually get it done. Sure some stitching can be done in front of the TV but there are tasks associated with that stitching that requires me to focus. For instance in crazy quilting when I am in the block piecing stage I need to focus where as stitching (for me) does not require so much thought.

I segregate activities into ‘must dos’ and ‘should dos’. The essential tasks or ‘must dos’ are those that if not attended immediately, would result in more time and energy to deal with later. I like to get the most important task on my to do list out of the way. I do it first while I am fresh and try not to get sidetracked. Also later on the day there are often interruptions but if you have the main task check off already interruptions do not seem so bad. Mornings, for me, are the quietest time of the day yet I am at my most energetic so I make full use of them. Some people are night people and they get a lot done then but I know my body clock and take advantage of its peak time.

After lunch I work in the studio or write lessons until about 4.30 which is when I get dinner on as Jerry gets home between 5:30 – 6:00 and I like to cook. Often while dinner is cooking I will check my mail but mostly I unwind as I have been working most of the day. We eat dinner while watching the News then usually turn off the TV. Evenings are spent reading, stitching or online but they are relaxation time not work time. Jerry often plays music as he plays the violin. My point is that it is what I call unstructured pottering time. In summer we might be in the garden or sitting outside with cold beer, or in winter inside with my nose in book. Evenings we also go out to dinner, take in a movie, or have friends over.

So as you can see (I hope) I put in a work day but that is it. I focus when I need to and slop about relaxing when I need to as well.

Goal setting is easy but staying on the path to meet those goals is always harder. One tip I picked up somewhere is to regularly review progress towards a long term goal. Doing this consolidates in your mind what you have achieved and motivates you to push a little harder towards a particular goal. Both keeping a blog or a visual journal helps as looking back on a visual journal or a blog you realise just how much you have done.

I have tried to develop a habit of completing what I start. It does not always work but friends do describe me as a ‘finisher’. This habit is not simply to complete projects but it nurtures a sense of achievement. The habit consolidates a sense of working towards larger goals in my life.

One of the ways I keep myself motivated is to socialize with people who are also what I call ‘makers’. In other word they are people who like creating something. Mutual support is motivating. Blogging is just an extension of this. In checking out what everyone else is doing I am motivated to swing into action. The best part about it is that there are enough blogs online that there is something fresh everyday.

Crafty tips and tricks

Before I start any project I make sure I have all the materials and tools to hand. You can waste a lot of time looking for that essential tool that you thought was there but is not.

I organize everything by colour because usually when you want something it is by colour. I think to myself I need a bit of blue here and then go to blue threads, beads or what ever I need. Everything, fabric, threads, beads is organised by colour. I have a post about how my workroom is organised and a post about my bead and thread storage system.

I have a clean up as I go policy. For instance as I cook, I clear away as I go and this means the final kitchen clean up is not that large a task. I have found that putting things away as I go means that I am not living in constant chaos. This applies to the studio/workroom too. At the end of a project I clear the decks and put away everything before I more on to the next.

In the house I do the same thing. I put away stuff as I go as this keeps the place generally tidy and its amazing how much dust in the corners you can get away with when the place looks tidy. I also believe that housework will expand to fill the time available. You will never be remembered for the floors your cleaned or the dishes you washed. I spend about 30 minutes a day doing one thing or another and that is it. Every now and then its blitze time and I use the timer again. When I was working 5 days a week Jerry and I would turn the timer on for an hour and clean like crazy once the timer went that was it down mops, buckets, cleaning agents anything that did not get done did not get done. (We prioritise housework tasks too so areas like kitchen and bathroom get done first) It is just the two of us now so there is not a heck of a lot of housework and usually in a 30 minute block of time. For me life is too short to spend too much time on house work but I do start from a tidy base.

I often work in multiples. For instance I never drag everything out to piece one block. I piece a batch of crazy quilt blocks at the same time. This means I always have blocks to hand which I can pick up but all the faffing about is over in one hit. Another example is I drag out the dyes about twice a year and do a really big batch of threads, lace and the like. This stuff accumulates through the year. As I see stuff at swap meets, sales in craft fairs etc I collect them and I have a plastic crate they are all put way in. When it starts to look as if it is filling I purchase some thread to dye and then away I go for a day or so and it’s all done in a day or so. If I dyed these pieces in dribs and drabs I would be for ever dragging out the dyes, dyeing them then cleaning up after myself.

Time management online

I make full use of RSS feeds as I get through a heck of a lot of reading as you can see here I used to use Bloglines and was happy with it for years but early this year I tried out Google reader and it won me over.

Other than that my method is to get up from the computer and turn it off as I explained above. It can become a great time sink if I am not careful.

Well that is all I can think of that I do. I hope readers have enjoyed the post. What time management tips do you have. Leave a comment and share them!

10 Comments

  1. I did an torturous effort to understand you. My head is broken, but enjoyed very much you wrote. I think like you very much about life. I felt “twin sould”…. Tks for your blog. (I hope you understand me, :P.)

  2. Thankyou for giving some insight about how you manage your day.

    I am a great one for lists and my husband teases me about it. However, I find if I don’t have a list, I don’t have a sense of urgency about things. So simple things slip, things like sweeping the kitchen floor once a day, loading the washing machine and putting out the washing etc. Once the simple things slip, then everything else slips.

    So now I am using the lists again but this time I am going to stick to them. I have even got a white board with my lists in full view whilst I am wasting time on the PC, guilting me. Plus my Son pointed me in the direction of OneNote. That means the white board is the immediate and the OneNote will be a record that its actually 2 wks since the bed linen was changed…whoops late again!

    Happyjacqui
  3. I went back to work when my daughter was 3 months old – my husband was stydying at Uni – (I put him through) we were on the bones of our backside and my daughter was the happiest accident of my life – but we both worked hard in those years

    Yes I did break all tasks down in bite size chuncks – they were even smaller chuncks those days – the only thing I did differently was when ever I had a moment – ask myself “how can I best use this time now?” that was my mantra

    By the time my daughter was 18 months old I had my own childrens wear label – It was in that period of my life I learnt what work really was, and how to stick to a routine as the business had to pay the rent, daycare etc as Jerry was studying full time –

    That is when I learnt to manage my time and I had no choice about working. My ideal would have been not to work through years and be a Mum but life is not always ideal. The best choice we made was to put each other through Uniiversity (Jerry put me through art school) but boy was it hard and look back and wonder how we did it. We both managed to not only do undergraduate degrees but also post graduate degrees – somehow we did it and we feel really happy we did

  4. Thank you, Sharon, for posting this.I have read it with a great interest! Since I have little children the first thought after reading your post was: But how did you do it when your daughter/s/ were little??? Was it any different in overall? Or the same applies – to have a goal, break it into parts and focus only on one at a time plus consistency? I wish you a good health so that you can keep your regularity!

    monattka
  5. Thanks for writing about how you use your time, Sharon. I enjoyed reading it. Highly productive people follow a routine consistently, as you do. It’s the regularity, the discipline, that produces results. I, too, use a timer. It’s my disciplinarian. I’ve used one since my kids were young, when I taught them to set it to time the sharing of toys or equipment. Now I use it to time my rests, as I have to spend 13/24 hours in bed, eyes closed, in silence. Since resting is my major occupation, I don’t get much stitching done, and that is frustrating.

    It was a pleasure to read about your days.

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this, I found it extremely interesting and have mentally subtitled it “The thinking woman’s guide to actually getting things done”. I am a chronic prevaricator with the intention of getting started soon, when I’ve just done….. : )
    The internet is one of my biggest time wasters, although I have found so much pleasure and so many interesting things about so much, perhaps it shouldn’t be thought if as a waste, merely accumulating resources for some future, as yet undefined project.
    Right, I am off to organise my fabrics and threads, before embarking on some clear project thinking.
    And my tips? You can’t eat a whole elephant, you have to eat them piece by piece and Life’s too short to iron anything that can’t be seen.

    threadspider

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