This morning, for example, I’ve been staring at a list of topics and events I need to write up while they’re still fresh in my mind, including recent writers’ festivals that I’ve attended and some social occasions. I know that another day will go by before I manage to make a start on them thanks to some pressing deadlines for some paid freelance work. Continue reading “What To Do When There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day”→
(This post about taking time out to relax was originally published in the November 2014 Hawkesbury Parish News)
“Unstructured time” is the new buzz phrase that suddenly seems to be everywhere. Psychologists are now recommending that to be healthier and happier, we should cut ourselves some slack and spend less time in organised activities. Resting and relaxing allows our minds, spirits and energy levels to be restored and renewed – but in our busy age, there’s a myth that if you’re not busy, you’re wasting your time.
I’m certainly guilty of falling for that myth. And with a constantly packed schedule myself, I’m conscious that my daughter (11) is heading in the same direction, with at least one extra-curricular activity every day. We love all our hobbies and don’t want to give them up, but sometimes we feel under siege from them.
This is why I’m happy to let my daughter free-range, so to speak, whenever there’s the opportunity to just relax and play, and it would do me good to follow suit. Adults have just as much to gain from being idle.The restorative power of pottering about should not be underestimated. Whenever I have an enforced period of inactivity due to illness, I always notice afterwards that I’m filled with energy and ideas.
My biggest challenge is simply to make myself do nothing. My obsession with filling my diary drives my husband to despair. Whenever a gap appears, I rush to schedule an outing or appointment.
So following the latest news report that we’d all be healthier and happier for some unstructured down-time, I’m determined to be busy doing nothing now and again. I hope it’s not cheating if I schedule that in my diary.
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:
Sometimes I think my eight-year-old daughter is far too wise for one so young. Or should that be Young?
As usual, 8.23 finds us struggling to get out of the door ready for an 8.30 start at the village school which is 5 minutes’ walk up the road. The adrenalin is pumping, voices are rising and each of the three of us blaming the others for the delay. Gotta get there before the bell rings!
Nothing I do makes a difference. Setting the alarm to kickstart the day at an earlier hour, having a “no going downstairs until you’re dressed and washed” rule, strategically choosing a breakfast that’s speedy to eat (Frosties bar beats bowl of Frosties by miles) – we still end up in a mad dash.
Leaving the house, we’re like a racing car leaving a pitstop. Coat, hat, scarf, bookbag, flute, music case, medical bag (to take care of her insulin dependent Type 1 diabetes) are flung at my daughter from all directions by two pairs of grown-up hands. Usually, but not always, they land in the right place.
Laura, as ever, remains calm. She has absolutely no sense of urgency, ever. When I’m grumbling one day at pick-up time that she’s yet again the last in her class to finish changing out of her PE kit at the end of the afternoon, a kindly teaching assistant steps in to defend her. Nicknamed Mrs Lovely by the children (because that is exactly what she is), she soon puts a positive spin on Laura’s dawdling.
“That’s because she’s always so thorough,” she says brightly.
I wonder sometimes whether my constant nagging will wear my daughter down and turn her into a resentful and resistant teenager. Time will tell, but thankfully there are no signs yet. Laura retains her own laid-back take on the world.
“Don’t worry, Mummy,” she said sweetly the other day. “It doesn’t really matter if I’m a bit late, because my name is last on the register.”
What a good thing I turned down that proposal of marriage from Aaron Aardvark.
Do you fight a constant battle to fit more chores into the day than the hours and the laws of physics will allow? I reckon multi-tasking is the scourge of the modern world.
Mr Micawber famously observed that having slightly more income than expenditure is the recipe for happiness, while the opposite leads to misery. I’m sure the same applies to time and tasks.
So I welcome any new idea that will help me make better use of my time. And this month I find a new ally. It’s a handy gadget on my new mobile phone. A “Lists & Things” button allows me to compile any number of action lists with deadlines. I can colour code tasks according to priority and hide or reveal items as I see fit. I can even get the phone to play a tune to remind me when a task is due for completion. I need never miss a deadline again.
Equipped with this app and a phone-based calendar, I decide to do away with my printed diary. (Frankly, I could do with the extra space in my handbag.) From now on, my phone will be all I need.
So I set about inputting appointments, tasks and deadlines. Some have very clear time constraints – dental appointments, print deadlines, term dates.
Having input all these, I start on the tasks for which I can set my own deadlines: when to write my next online blog entry, when to complete the first draft of that book… Scrolling down the screen to set the date for the first of these items, my finger slips and I find myself accidentally advancing the year instead of the day of the month.
And so I discover a major difference between this and my old printed diary: the phone version doesn’t end on 31st December 2011. I scroll down the years – 2012, 2013, 2014… A few moments later, I’m still going: 2087, 2088, 2089. Why was I so worried? There’s still plenty of time to fit everything in. The only problem will be if I lose my phone in the meantime.
This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish Magazine, August 2011 edition.