For the start of the new academic year, a new post outlining a way of using school timetable methods to manage an adult’s workload
Enviously examining my daughter’s beautiful school journal, provided by her new secondary school to help pupils manage their school timetable, homework and extra-curricular activities, I realised that I’ve been missing an obvious trick for my own time management: using an academic diary to manage my workload.
If, like me, you work from home, or just want to get more out of the hours in your day, I hope my new time management plan, outlined below, will help you.
My Working Day
During my many years of marching to the beat of an employer’s drum, I often had to complete time-sheets to demonstrate how many hours I’d worked on various client contracts. Now those days are behind me, and I have the luxury of working full time from home. My natural antipathy to housework ensures I’m not tempted to leave my desk other than for a mid-morning tea-break and lunch, scheduled to ensure I stretch and breathe, and to reassure my retired husband that I haven’t forgotten his existence.
The pattern of my working day is geared around my eleven-year-old daughter’s school timetable. Since she started secondary school (high school) last week, I’ve gained an extra hour, as she leaves homes nearly an hour earlier than when she was attending the village school. It’s as if the clocks have gone back an hour: I’m normally at my desk by 8am.
Everyone tells me that as children get older they need you more, rather than less, so I take time out when Laura gets home to talk to her about her day, supervise homework and take her to evening activities (flute lessons, Guides, Youth Club, Stagecoach and tea at Grandma’s – phew!) But I can usually grab an hour or two of time in the evening after she’s gone to bed.
My To-Do List
A combination of regular paid work, short-term contracts, public speaking gigs and speculative personal writing projects means my workload is busy and varied, and I’m never, ever bored, but trying to squeeze such a mixed agenda into a fixed time-frame is challenging. It can be frustrating to feel that I’ve worked all hours, cutting corners on sleep, without achieving all that I need to do. As a result, my to-do lists can often be classed as works of fiction. I’m also conscious that I should be getting more exercise, and would like to squeeze in a thirty-minute daily walk.
It’s a classic problem for self-employed creative types: to be full of ideas, enthusiasm and energy, but to fail on the practical side, overpromising and underdelivering. Even if your only client is yourself, rather than a paid customer, as when you’ve committed to yourself to write a short story or novel, it can be disheartening, and end up sapping your creativity as well as your income.
My New Plan
I’m therefore uplifted by by new plan, which is to follow the structure and principles of a typical school timetable to make the finite number of hours more productive:
- start with a grid of available time slots, broken down into short segments that match a realistic concentration span (no more than two hours each)
- create a list of “subjects” (e.g. blog posts, articles, fiction or non-fiction writing projects, contract work, planning, financial management)
- allocate an appropriate number of periods per week to each subject, according to their priority (writing projects every day, financial management weekly)
- schedule the slots into a grid in a varied pattern that reflects when the different parts of my brain work best (creative writing first thing, admin later in the day)
- include some free time for rest and refreshment (mid-morning playtime, sociable lunch break)
- allow some free periods for contingency e.g. for rescheduling an activity if I need to go out for an appointment during its allocated time slot (I usually go out at least once a week to meet an author friend for coffee or to take a brief for a new contract)
I’m resisting the urge to dash out to the shops now and buy a shiny new academic year diary, complete with timetable to fill in. Instead, I’m going to create a template on my computer and print it out at the start of each week, adding details of the specific projects I need to complete each week. I’m also going to schedule a series of “school bells” on my phone to make sure I move on to the next “class” as necessary during the day. If not, it’ll be detention time for me!
Will it work for me? Will it work for you? Only time will tell. I’m just trying not to be discouraged by the fact that I’ve just drafted this blog post in a time slot I’d allocated for fiction writing…
Do you have any top tips for time management that you’d like to share here? Please feel free to join the conversation via the comments box below.
If you liked this post, you’ll find my daughter’s attitude to action-lists entertaining, in this post from the archives:
What A To-Do! The Tale of My Young Daughter’s Action List