Thanks for all your lovely comments on my time management post last week – I’m genuinely glad it was helpful for some of you. You might remember from that first post how I talked about dividing all my tasks and jobs into five different categories – the last of which was projects. This post, therefore, will be all about projects but never fear my friends, this will be a much shorter post!
Then and now
One of the things I loved the most about working for myself in those early years before kids was that I was the master of my own time. I had all day, every day to work on my business (my primary ‘project’ so to speak) and all the other projects that I wanted to do. Back then, I had a long list of things I needed/wanted to do and every day, and I just made my way through the list. I could work at my own pace, as there was no one else to make demands on my time. (Naturally, some days I procrastinated and would kick myself for getting nothing done and other days I would be the most productive person alive and crank through pages worth of tasks. )
Every mum/parent knows how demanding (and sometimes crazy) it can be to look after a young family. Little children constantly need attention and looking after, and there is virtually no time in the day to think about (much less do) much else when the little ones are awake and running around. As a result, in order to make time for projects these days, I have to be much more structured with my time – all day, every day. This is why my last post was all about habits, structure and routine.
My projects these days…
As I mentioned in that first post, the banner of ‘projects’ these days captures all the ‘big’ stuff in my life. These include:
- big tasks that actually consist of multiple smaller tasks (e.g. upgrading a hard drive)
- jobs that I know will take a bigger chunk of time than just 15 minutes (e.g. purging my closet, preparing and lodging tax returns, updating our wills)
- household jobs that might take more than one day (e.g. setting up the boys’ room)
- design jobs (when I was still working)
- organising events (eg. birthday parties)
- all my memory keeping projects outside of my weekly and monthly PL spreads
My monthly projects list
My main method for managing my projects is simply to keep a running projects list in my Simplenote to keep me on track as to what I need to get done or what I want to get done in a certain month. So for example, working on our family’s 2011 Project Life album was the main project for January. However, I’d also had written down purging my closet, upgrading my hard drive and organising my shoebox photos.
It’s a simple method for keeping track of my projects. I can easily add or subtract from my list, and I can easily shuffle projects around as circumstances change, or as I realise I’m running out of time in a certain month, I can simply ‘move stuff forward’ to another month. The vital key here for me is flexibility.
For some projects, I will use the Things‘ functionality of creating ‘projects’ and being able to create tasks within these projects. When I was still running my design business, I used this ‘projects’ function quite often as it was perfect for organising and scheduling client projects. Nowadays, I will typically use it to organise projects like the children’s parties.
My project time
My allocated time for working on my projects is primarily in the evenings, after I’ve ticked off my two daily habits of publishing that evening’s blog post and doing my physio exercises (though obviously things like re-organising the boys’ clothes needs to be done during the day while I have access to their rooms). This works well for me because I am, by nature, a big night owl, and I find it easiest to focus when I know that there are at least a few hours stretched before me of child-free time. Sometimes, a project might take one night to complete. Other times, a project might take up to a week from beginning to end. All this is taken into account when I create my monthly projects list.
Even though I mostly work on my projects in the evenings, being able to work on my projects starts at the beginning of each day when I start working my way through all the ‘routine’ stuff and all the other tasks I need to get done that day. Doing that means that I can sit down to my desk in the evening without clutter on my desk, in my inbox or on my to-do list. I can just dive straight into my project work.
My tips on managing projects
- Set aside a daily block of time to work on your projects: It doesn’t have to be a huge block of time. As long as it’s regular so that you don’t lose momentum.
- Break down each project into smaller tasks so that you can visually see the steps that will lead you to complete the project. Based on these smaller tasks, try to set a mini goal for yourself at the end of each block of project time.
- Plan mini breaks from projects. if you find you are getting stuck in a rut and not going anywhere with a project, take a break, move onto your next project and come back to this one when you’re feeling more refreshed. This is what I had to do for our 2011 Project Life album. I was stressing myself out so much about not making enough progress on it, that I ended up getting nowhere with it. So I took a break over Christmas, worked on other projects, then came back to it during our recent holiday and finally finished it with a bang. The break was exactly what I needed.
A quick recap…
- Differentiate between regular ‘tasks’ and ‘projects’.
- Turn ‘tasks’ into ‘habits’ by developing a routine (and sticking to it).
- Work out which habits are daily ones, and which habits are weekly ones.
- Know when you have time: ie. Work out when you have ‘free’ time to do things in (e.g. when the children are asleep), allocate tasks to that time-slot and then do your best to stick to it.
- Allow for monthly/quarterly jobs: set aside a block of time in the calendar for them.
- Keep a running list of monthly projects. Review and update this list as circumstances change.
- Allocate a regular amount of time each day to work on your projects, if possible. Don’t be overwhelmed by the immensity of any project by breaking it down and setting mini goals.
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And that’s it! (I did promise you this one would be much shorter.) If there’s anything I’ve missed or if you have any questions, simply leave a comment below.