Friday, June 15, 2012

Wrangling Time

I'm always happy when I find a way of organizing things that works for me. I'm especially happy when I find something that helps me organize my time.

To me, time management is a pipe dream. I can't even capture it, let alone manage it. But when I organize my time in a way that makes sense to me (the combination of must do, should do and want to do that I mentioned in my last post), I gain a sense of accomplishment even when the to do list remains long at the end of the day.

One of the best things about summer vacation is that lovely combination. We're not held captive by the must dos, and we have more room for the things that we enjoy, which, ironically, give us more energy to do the things we have to do. Warm days and sunshine help, too.

When I cleaned out my office at school, I took home my page-a-day to-do list calendar. At first, I wasn't sure what I'd do with it (and I still haven't found it a permanent home - though I do have some ideas). Earlier this week, I tried using it to focus in on only one day's worth of things to do - the third tier in my time management hierarchy.

Tier one is the family calendar - all the appointments we've made, practices we need to shuttle our daughter to, etc. - the must do items. Tier two is my to-do list - a combination of should do and want to do.

Tier three is my page-a-day. Ideally, I fill in each day's page the night before - since I'm a night owl, this works well for me, and it gives me a head start on getting focused on my chosen tasks. First on the page are the items from the family calendar, which I keep on a monthly calendar on my iPad.

Next are items from my to do list - those that are time sensitive take priority over all the others. Since the page is divided into two columns, I follow the age-old time management advice of blocking out time for some things (those go in the left column with scheduled appointments). In the right hand column are those things I hope to accomplish in addition to the things I have scheduled. When that list gets too long, I stop because I've discovered that overbooking my day leads me to accomplish less. When I underbook my day (is there any such thing??), I feel less stressed and, at the end of the day, usually discover that I've done more.

The key thing for me is flexibility. I hate feeling so bound by the calendar that there's no room for spontaneity or fun, and when I see white space on the page, I feel less constricted.

Those of you who are natural time managers are probably shaking your heads - if you're even still reading this. I've tried one calendar, but when it gets too full, I panic. I suppose I could put some of this on the day-by-day view in my iPad, but when it comes to calendars, I'm still very much a pencil and paper kind of girl.

Only one tool is still missing - my long-term project calendar for my writing, teaching and other professional obligations.

No worries. I'll just go pencil in that purchase.

What time management system works for you? I'd love to hear your ideas.

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