Despite the number of questions I’ve received about how I manage my time, I have to admit I’ve been putting this post off because there are so many aspects of time management that I could talk about, and in my opinion there are already so many great resources out there. Also, I always worry I’ll come across like I expect everyone else to function the way I do. For the record – I don’t. We are all different people, and I totally get that how I operate is very much tied to my personality type.
So what I’ve decided to do is to simply focus on how I manage my time right now. This is, of course, specific to my present stage in life: as a mum of three little kids at home (all of whom do one long midday nap at the same time) with no work/business responsibilities. As my circumstances continue to change (e.g. when baby Edward arrives), the way I manage my time will also change.
A time for everything
Unlike the toys in our house, or the things in our handbag, time is intangible. But I do believe that time can be organised much like anything else. In fact, my approach to time management is much the same as my approach to organising things in general: have a place for everything and put everything in its place. In other words, I treat the things I need or want to do in much the same way as I would treat tangible objects in our home: I identify what they all are, I discard the ones that aren’t important, I sort them out into different categories, and then I do my very best to stick to this system. I am also constantly reviewing my system to make sure it’s still relevant and efficient (It’s actually very similar to David Allen’s famous ‘Getting Things Done’ system: capture, discard, organise and maintain.)
One of the wonderful things about making a time for everything is that when I’m with the boys, I am much better at being ‘present’ with them because I know that all the other things will be taken care of at some other point in my day/week/month.
On the concept of ‘doing it all’
First up, I am not a believer in doing it all.
I believe in making choices that reflect my priorities in life, at any given stage. Right now, those priorities are supporting my husband in his ministry work, looking after our family and keeping up with our memory-keeping. Closing my business was a big decision I made last year (in consultation with Rick) as the business was, essentially, no longer a priority for me or my family.
I believe in investing time in what I truly enjoy doing. Blogging is something I truly love – my primary creativity outlet these days. I enjoy the writing aspect of it, and I enjoy the photography part of it. I also love the connections I’ve made with other bloggers. And so, blogging is a big part of my routine.
I believe in getting/receiving help, and ‘outsourcing’ where possible. Rick’s mum comes over once a week to look after the boys. This frees me up to do what I want for several hours, which is quite a golden treat when you are a mother. Lately I’ve been using this time to actually do my writing for the blog, to free up time on my weeknights. We also use an agency who sends someone out to clean our home once a fortnight. This saves both Rick and myself a lot of time and we honestly believe it’s worth the money we spend.
I believe in working as a team with my awesome husband, and we both believe in working to our strengths. As such, we’ve each taken on rather ‘non-traditional’ roles in our family. While Rick looks after all the cooking and all the washing (I merely help with sorting out the clothes once they’re clean and dried), I’m responsible for all our finances, admin, tax and legal stuff. This has worked well for us for many years now, and I see it continuing into the future.
Lastly, I believe in not comparing myself to others. We’re all in different circumstances, with different time constraints, at different life stages, and with different interests and gifts. What someone else is able to accomplish in the course of their day or their week has no bearing on me. We are each our own person.
The ‘nuts and bolts’ of it all
Now we really get down to the specifics of how I manage my time on an everyday basis. To be completely honest, I feel a little vulnerable doing this (like I’m baring my soul or something like that), but I do hope it provides some helpful inspiration for those of you who are interested.
Essentially, I like to group all the things I have/want to do into a number of categories:
a) Daily habits
b) General tasks
c) Weekly jobs
d) Monthly/quarterly jobs
a) Daily habits
These are things that I would ideally like to do every day, which don’t necessarily come naturally to me. They include things like reading my bible, taking my tablets, replying emails, doing my physio exercises, eating fruit and writing down things that the boys say. They are things which I would probably not do automatically without a bit of prompting and reminding (unlike brushing my teeth or taking a shower). My daily blogging routine also forms part of this list.
These daily habits are written into a simple list in Simplenote, which I sync and access on my desktop using Notational Velocity. (Obviously, you do not need to use Simplenote to do something similar. A simple list on your phone or computer or paper would do the same trick.) They are then divided into the time of day in which I’m most likely to do them, or the time of day which I think would work best. For example, I’ve worked out that the boys’ nap time is the best window for me to pray, reply emails and finish prepping my blog posts as I know I’ll get at least a couple of hours of quiet time. On the other hand, late afternoon (when Play School is on the television for half an hour) is the perfect time to deal with incoming paperwork and review our family finances since I know that only takes about fifteen to twenty minutes (though when I was running the business, this would take a bit longer as I had to factor in business payments and entering journal entries into MYOB).
In my opinion, replying/filing emails and dealing with incoming paperwork are both important things to do on a daily basis, because they are critical to achieving an uncluttered inbox and a clean desk. Knowing that everything is dealt with and filed, with no loose ends to tie up, is one of the key to my being able to sit down at the end of the day and work on my projects, which I’ll talk about in my next post.
Obviously, there are other many other things that form part of my daily routine like getting dressed, spending time with the boys, feeding the boys, tidying the house, taking showers, etc. but because I automatically do them, I don’t put them on this list.
Tip: Don’t try to list too many daily tasks into the one time slot, as psychologically this can be quite intimidating and might actually encourage procrastination – especially if you are a mum with limited time throughout the day. Also, work out when you are most likely to do something; go with your natural rhythm throughout the day. (For example, if you are a morning person, then put more of your ‘thinking’ habits/tasks in the morning rather than the evening.)
b) General tasks
These are tasks which are not recurring in nature (at least not on a regular basis). For example, making a dental appointment, preparing for Sunday School, installing a piece of software or contacting someone from church. All my general tasks are entered into my Things app, which syncs across my iPhone and my laptop. Each task will land in one of four places:
- the Today list – These are tasks that I plan on completing the very same day.
- the Scheduled list – These are tasks that are less urgent but which I still want to get done on a certain date (usually in the same week); on the allocated date, the task will automatically appear on my Today list.
- the Errands list – These are tasks I need to complete when I’m out of the house. Most of the time, my errands are not time-sensitive (especially as I’m no longer running a business), so I simply move them to my Today list when I know that I’ll be out for certain period of time. As much as I can, I try to group my errands so that I’m not having to make multiple trips (or I ask Rick to complete them for me if I know he’s going to be passing the post office or the newsagent on his way home). (The Things app does not come with an automatic Errands list but you can easily set one up as an ‘area of responsibility’ and it appears as a list.)
- the Inbox – These are tasks which I know I need to get done but I haven’t quite worked out when I’m going to have time to do them, so they get ‘dumped’ into the Inbox to be re-sorted into one of the other lists later.
At the beginning of each day (usually when I’m still lying in bed), I review everything on the Today list, and then arrange them in either the order of priority and/or the order in which I’m most likely to complete them. If I think there are realistically too many things on the list, or if unforeseen circumstances have come up (e.g. someone waking up with a high temperature), then I will re-schedule some of the tasks to another day. If you don’t wish to pay for an app like Things, you might want to consider looking into Remember the Milk, which is free and has similar features.
Once the day actually begins, I usually try to knock over my tasks at the earliest opportunity (after I’ve completed the daily habits assigned to that time of the day.)
c) Weekly jobs
These are tasks or jobs that get done (theoretically) on a weekly (or bi-weekly) basis, and I organise these using a combination of the Things app and iCal on my Mac. Some of these weekly tasks are household chores, some of these are memory-keeping jobs and some of these are related to blogging.
The wonderful thing about the Things app is that it allows you to not only schedule repeating tasks but you can also set what day of the week a task appears. This is really helpful because I like to organise out my weekly tasks so that they don’t all fall on the same day. It’s about spreading out the workload. Obviously, as you get used to your weekly task list, you automatically know what task will come up on what day, but I find it’s still helpful for me to see something tangible on my to-do list every day as a visual prompt.
As a general rule, I try to schedule the jobs which I know take a longer period of time – like writing blog posts and sorting photos – to days of the week when I know someone else is around to spend a bit of time with the boys.
Recently, I moved my weekly memory-keeping and blogging tasks to my iCal app (ie. the native calendar software on Macs) as recurring weekly events (instead of having them on Things) because they tend to require a slightly larger chunk of time than the other tasks, and I’m finding it helpful to be able to actually schedule the particular ‘job’ to a certain time of the day once that day has started. This works well alongside my Today list on Things.
Tip: Try to complete weekly jobs on the day they come up, rather than re-scheduling or delaying them, otherwise they build up.
d) Monthly and quarterly jobs
These are mainly administrative tasks that I’ve decided work best if I tackle them on a monthly or quarterly basis. Again, these are entered into Things and scheduled to appear on a particular date of the month or quarter. This is incredibly useful as my monthly and quarterly jobs usually need to be completed towards the end of the month or quarter. And again, I always try to make time to complete my monthly and quarterly tasks as soon as they come up, so that I can get on with the next month/quarter without accumulating a backlog of tasks.
Filing every quarter makes sense for me, even back when I was running a business, because we don’t have a huge amount of paperwork and it means I don’t have to worry about filing on a daily weekly or even monthly basis. Plus, I think it’s more efficient to file a larger amount of paperwork than a smaller amount. The same goes for bank reconciliation.
But as you can see, it’s not all about chores. Working on Project Life is included in my monthly (and weekly) routines, because it’s something that’s important to me, and I want it to be incorporated into my life so that it becomes second nature, rather than something that I have to stress about. Since each of the boys have their own Project Life album, what I do is I simply focus on one of their albums each week, and I generally do this in one go when my parents are over for their weekly visit.
What it comes down to (for me)
- It’s all about working out what I need to get done. And what I want to get done.
- It’s about breaking down my goals into small, actionable tasks and then allocating a time for these tasks during my day and/or week and doing my best to stick to it.
- It’s about thinking big, but planning in small, achievable steps.
- It’s about doing my best to not waste time.
- It’s about setting up habits, establishing routines, creating structure and being organised & disciplined.
* * *
So far, all the above is about establishing and keeping up with a routine that:
a) supports good habits and my current priorities in life, and
b) gets things done in order for the course of every day family life to take place in a somewhat orderly fashion.
The final category, projects, therefore captures all the other ‘big’ stuff such as re-designing a website, birthday parties, additional memory keeping projects. As this has already been such a lengthy post, I’ll be posting about the way I manage my projects next week. (I know some of you said on Facebook that you’d prefer to read it all in one sitting, but trust me, it was becoming a book. Hope this is okay!)
I would love for you to share how you manage your time on a day-to-day basis! And as always, feel free to ask any questions.