Not Another Time Management System

Creative Commons Image by flik

Time is not money, time is life. Unlike money, we can’t get more of it by working harder, we can only learn how to better manage the time we have.

My grandfather, like most grandfathers, has about three favorite stories he manages to work into every conversation we have. In his story about working in the corporate world in the 1960s he ends it by saying this: if you don’t plan your day, someone will do it for you. This is something I have heard all my life but it didn’t sink in until I was able to see how true it was in my life and it’s just as true as it was when my grandfather was my age. In fact, the only thing that has changed in the last couple generations is the amount of people and the amount of technologies that are fighting for that time.

When I started working at SEI my mentor suggested keeping an activity log of how I spend my time each day. If you have ever been on a diet or nutrition regiment, you may be familiar with food logs; this is the same idea. Ultimately, the idea of writing down what you are doing in a list is to make you more mindful of your day-to-day activities so you are aware of what you are spending your time on.

I learned that I spend an enormous amount of time…

  •  Scrolling through social media newsfeeds
  •  Reading news stories I forget later in the day
  • Tapping apps on my phone that tell me I have updates 
  • Staring off into space and watching cars go by outside
  • Checking my email and deleting the junk in my inbox
  •  Looking at a song that came on my Pandora radio station, then looking up the artist on Wikipedia, then looking at the reviews of their latest album, then cursing the magazines who reviewed the album poorly, then looking for an album sale figure to make sure the band is financially stable and will continue to make sweet sweet music, and THEN posting the song on a social media platform telling all my internet friends about the awesome song I heard on Pandora today.
  • And finally, instead of sitting down to write and pursue my goal of writing a book, I binge watch reality TV shows on Netflix and stuff myself silly with cheese poofs.

Suddenly, I realized that how I saw myself was quite different than reality. Deep down I had this idea that I was a humble genius of the night, an intellectual and philosopher, perhaps deeply troubled because of a fight with evil during infancy, wearing dark robes and scaring neighborhood children…  But in reality, I was some mid-20s guy dressed in button down business casual, dawdling on the computer most of the day while eating my girlfriend’s skinny popcorn (yum). I was able to complete my work, ask the right questions, and get by alright… but I definitely wasn’t seriously working towards building my business skills or becoming a misunderstood dark lord of prose. I had some ideas of goals to work towards, but I didn’t know where to start.

In the past year, since becoming aware of how I actually spend my time, I have actively worked towards using my time more effectively, setting goals, and working towards those goals. This is what I have learned so far, it works for me and may work for you. Feel free to tweak and improve upon my suggestions to fit your personal goals.

 

1)    Narrowing Your Focus

It starts with knowing what you are passionate about and setting a goal to work towards. Sometimes being curious is the best place to start. Browse the internet, go to the library or check out a job fair to get ideas. You may already be doing what you are passionate about in your free time as a hobby. 

If you need some help getting the brain juices going, I learned a lot about finding my passion and setting goals on Chris Guillebeau's website and reading his books The $100 Startup, The Art of Non-Conformity, and

 

2)    Waste Your Time More Efficiently

  • Use your free time to work towards your goals. Netflix and other video streaming sites are fun, but be mindful of binge-watching. Try limiting yourself to one or two hours (or an episode or two) and move on to another activity. If you find yourself watching something (this goes for reading an article or reading a book) and you think to yourself what am I doing, this is not worth my time, stop watching. If it’s not worth your time, move on to something that is.
  • Read up about your goals and what you are passionate about. Try an audiobook if you are strapped for time or you spend a lot of time on the go. I have found that reading books and listening to audiobooks is much more fulfilling (and useful) than video streaming services.
  • Don’t eat lunch alone. Meet up with a co-worker outside of your team and talk shop about the projects you are working on. I frequently lunch with friends from a variety fields, it gives me a fresh perspective on the work I am currently doing.
  • Join groups (meet ups) to meet other people who share your interests. If you prefer to stay at home, get involved in online discussion boards/online communities.
  • Tap into the right side of your brain and get creative. Working the right side of your brain may give you a fresh perspective on the project you are stuck on at work. You can do this through meditation, signing up for an art class, learning to play an instrument, using your less dominate hand to write or draw, crafting, and gardening (and many more).
  • Get active. I run three or four days a week. Exercise allows me to mull over problems in my head and I am rewarded with a rush of endorphins afterwards. 

 

3)    Managing Distractions & Productivity

  • I limit myself to checking my personal Facebook once in the morning and once in the evening, with a time limit of 15 minutes each session. I set a timer on my phone and when it goes off I log off and close the window. If you have a hard time cutting yourself off when the 15 minutes is up, there are software programs that will do this for you. 
  • Limit the amount of times you check your email. I check my email three times a day: in the morning, around noon, and in the evening. This works out to about every 2-3 hours during the normal 8/8.5 hour work day.
  •  Delete apps on your phone that suck up time and energy. I feel so much better mentally when I am not notified every few minutes with updates from my phone. This includes changing setting on the email app to limit notifications.
  • Turn your phone off during the day and allow yourself to check it every couple hours. If you need your phone by you for emergencies or work calls, put it on silent.
  • If something can be done in 5 minutes or less, do it now. If a task is going to take longer to write down in a “to-do” list than to complete it, it’s better to just get it over with when you come across it.
  • Figure out what time of the day you are the most productive. I believe that there are morning people, after lunch people, evening people, and night people. Understand what time of the day is optimal for your productivity. I have found that I am most productive in my writing at night, but terrible with scheduling. In the morning I am great at making plans and researching, but find it difficult to write papers and blog posts.

 

4)    Paper Planners

I use a Day-Timer to keep track of my appointments and tasks I need to complete each day and week. Having a planner allows me to look at my schedule without taking out my phone or using technology. I can quickly look at my schedule, scribble out tasks I have completed (which feels great), and keep track of how many times I have checked my email and Facebook.

There are a lot of different kinds of planners and even more ways to use them. I created my own way to use my Day-Timer. If you pick up a planner, feel free to experiment with different methods and find out what works for you.

On the right of my planner page (see image below) I have my “to-do” list. It is broken into four boxes. The top two are for the current day, what I need to get done today (left) and what I would like to get done today (right). The bottom two boxes are for the current week, the left side is what I need to get done this week and the lower right side is for what I would like to get done this week. On the left side of the page, I list my daily schedule at the top. The middle section is reserved for thoughts that come up throughout the day. At the bottom there is a free space for any reminders or a quote I want to think about during the day.

 

5)    You’re Not 21 Anymore

You should have fun with your friends and co-workers but be mindful so your party doesn’t follow you the next morning into work. I can’t think of anything more miserable than having a hangover at work. Losing a day to a hangover can be a big setback when you are working towards a goal. You will have improved mental clarity and be less distracted if you forgo that last martini of the evening. Better yet, take a month off the sauce and give your body a breather, this was a popular story last month for UK and US new sources. 

People in our generation are partying harder and longer than previous generations. Keep yourself in check and you’ll be fine. 

 

STARTING TODAY

Keep track of everything thing you do by writing it down in a computer document or physical notebook. The goal of this is to see where your time is going and to reevaluate what you want to be spending your time on. Are you really in control of you schedule or is someone (or something) planning your day for you? We all have 24 hours, spend wisely. :)

 

Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant 
Apprenticeship Program 
andrew.wilt@sustainableevolution.com