As those familiar with this blog will know, for the first time in a long time, I made New Year’s resolutions for 2014. 17 days in and I am happy to say I am doing pretty well. My resolution to stop drinking Coca-Cola has gone without mishap and I have also started running more frequently and seriously. The reolution I thought I would struggle with most however, was improving my time-management and I want to quickly share with you the strategies I am testing and how they are going.
I have essentially adopted a three tier approach to try and improve my focus and productivity. The first step was to know all of the longer term deadlines I have to complete (I did up until the end of my MA / start of my PhD) and understand how they all stack up. This includes all coursework deadlines, conference abstracts and presentations I need to get done. In a bid to see this all positively and not just shit loads of work, I got quite creative to produce a lovely poster that now sits on desk.
Lastly then, I combine the weekly outlines with an ongoing to do list of smaller tasks that I keep in Evernote to produce detailed weekly plans. Taking a leaf out of Raul Pacheco-Vega’s book, these plans not only include what I should be doing but where I should be every hour of the day. I try and work between 8am and 6pm each weekday with the evenings and weekends free to do non-work stuff. I then set them as my laptop and iPad backgrounds so it is easily at hand.
I am actually finding these plans extremely useful, not only do they keep me focussed but because I know what exciting task I get to do once I have finished the current one, it encourages me not to let tasks drag on. I am particularly a fan of planning where I should be – last term I found myself working at home a lot and that wasn’t necessarily the most productive environment for me. Now there are still tasks I prefer to do at home, writing being one of them, but using these weekly plans allows me to identify which tasks I want to do at home at when I can do them.
On the whole I am trying to make more use of libraries and much better use of my travel time. Because I commute on the trains, it does give me the opportunity to get work done. I have usually abused this to get some last minute reading done before a seminar, but as my planning has improved, I find I do not have to complete essential tasks whilst on the move, but have the opportunity to do other things that would usually be sidelined. I’m also trying to ensure they are lighter tasks that do not matter if the travel conditions dictate I cannot complete them – e.g. I don’t have a seat. Therefore, I am trying to utilise this time for reading work unrelated to my studies (just stuff that interests me), reading non-academic work altogether and drafting blog posts (like this one). My travel time has truly become a gift.
I am also learning to prioritise better, rather than just having a to do list where all things seem to have equal weighting, the colour coding on my plans allows me to see which tasks must get done and if something over runs, which tasks can be dropped with less repurcussions. Thursday’s reading took longer than expected so I dropped writing my application for travel awards. It also provides a good visual tool to ensure I am getting a good balance between tasks – spending most of my time on essential tasks and less on other things.
This has come particularly handy when, as life has a habit of doing, something springs up that wasn’t expected but now necessary to do. For example, on Monday morning I found out that I was able to submit a late proposal for a conference and then spent the morning doing that. This meant something had to be postponed and therefore I am only getting this post out of Friday when it was intended for Monday. Subsequently the post for meant for today is going to be pushed to next week.
On the whole I have learnt that a bit of flexibility is not only desirable but a necessity. I like to use the plan as a very structured outline of what I need to get done over the week and how I am going to achieve it, but I am not a slave to it. I don’t even plan time for lunch or moving between locations and they have to fit into my day.
Ultimately, I have been much much more productive using the plans than before. They may be a little time consuming to put together (I try to do it on a Sunday evening) but that investment outweighs the productivity (and work-life balance) of not wasting time throughout the week. Although, I still probably tweet too much.
So I will stick with this method for now and who knows, it may be a one take wonder.