Can I get great at managing my time and tasks? Did you? How? How it is?
August 27, 2017 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I’m pretty okay, I think, at time management. But I’d like to get better at it. Did you or someone you know make this transformation? I’d like to hear about that. How did you make it happen? What was the experience like? Is it even a realistic goal?

I work on my own as the sole proprietor of a consulting/training business, also juggling the occasional creative project, and the demands of parenting a toddler.

I think I’m pretty okay at managing my time and tasks. But I’d love to get really great at it.

Some stuff I’d like:

- Having a clearer sense of what I'm aiming to get done on a given day and in a given week.
- Having better mechanisms for making sure that I'm working on the most important stuff, not getting distracted by busywork or online distractions (facebook, etc)
- Having better mechanisms for feeling confident that things aren't being forgotten.
- Being able to finish a day feeling more confident I've done what I need to do today, and feeling clear on what I need to do tomorrow.
- Being maximize my leisure time: both in the sense of having more of it, and also in the sense of using it in ways that are most satisfying to me.

I’m curious to hear about people who got a lot better at it, and how you made that transformation. I’m looking less for specific time-management tips, and more for a bigger picture of how you got from here to there, if that distinction makes sense.

a) Did you make a transformation like this? How did you do that? Did you read a book? Take a class? Get someone to help? Something else?

b) What is it like to be much better at this stuff than you were before? Has it really made your life a lot better? Books like Getting Things Done and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People seem to promise a lot (eg: an ongoing stress-free sense of accomplishment). Does your experience live up to that?

c) Is this even a realistic goal? Part of me is a little skeptical about all the books and courses out there: Like people will get briefly better and then backslide (which, I guess, tends to be a bit what my own experience is like).

As someone who teaches classes in soft skills, I’m particularly interested if you took a class or
received coaching that was particularly helpful, though I’m interested in any other methods you might have used (reading a book, working out your own system, whatever...)

posted by ManInSuit to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Getting Things Done actually did a ton for me - not so much in the filing-scheme sense, but it gave me a way to break up and think about tasks that helped me forecast a lot better and actually fixed a big chunk of my procrastination problem. The original book is badly dated (again, in the filing-scheme sense, and partly because it's aimed squarely at sales executives and big chunks of it just aren't relevant) but some of the ideas are pure gold.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:36 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've recently dramatically improved my time management. I'm a SAHM who homeschools, which means lots of planning and organization. While I haven't done it long enough to claim "success" or consistency, what I do that works looks like this:
- I use a bullet journal. Lots of people spend a lot of time making theirs pretty, with markers, calligraphy, washi tape, stickers...but mine is pretty bare-bones. I use some markers, but it really is a tool for me, not my hobby.
- Every Sunday, I sit down and make a spread for the week. This is when I plan meals, figure out whether there are any supplies or unusual chunks of time I need for my curriculum, and generally determine my weekly priorities. This is where I write down longer-term goals, to keep them fresh in my mind, since I refer to this page every day.
- Every night, I sit down and make a plan for the following day. This involves some copying over from the previous day, and kind of reminding myself of my goals. As the day goes on, I add things to the list when they come up.
- At the end of the month, I create a page for the following month. (I'm working on "September" this afternoon.) My monthly calendar spread also includes migrated to-do items from the previous month and a place to list upcoming events I want to remember.

I also use Google calendar for long-term scheduling and joint scheduling with my spouse.

I do all the meal planning and 90% of the grocery shopping in my house, but I do plan out every meal. I eat the same thing for breakfast & lunch every day, and I schedule 3-5 ideas for those meals for my kids that I rotate through. Meal planning has freed up a ton of mental space, money, and time for me.

I schedule my leisure time as well as my work time. That means I actually do it.

All this stuff has helped me avoid feeling at loose ends, or like I'm scrambling. It's not a perfect system (yet), but it's working well so far.
posted by linettasky at 4:40 PM on August 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a system that is super simple and super effective: index cards, held together by a binder clip. Having 1 topic/issue/task/reminder per card feels very clean and it is really satisfying to throw out cards as they get done.

At the start of the day, I take the binder clip off and re-sort the cards by priority. I take the cards that I want to complete that day and put them next to my laptop, to police my time.

I also keep 5-minute tasks on top so whenever I have a bit of downtime or just want a break, I can grab an easy card and get it done.

As a bonus, jotting down all the to-do's swirling around in your head before bed is a proven technique for better sleep (but you need to write them down physically, not electronically).
posted by rada at 5:31 PM on August 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just adding to the great suggestions above:

The Pomodoro Technique is the single most effective and useful time management technique I have ever implemented. It's definitely helpful to be able to identify, organise, and prioritise the things that you need to do. But this technique is like instant motivation for the tasks that you have. Making the decision to set the timer and knowing I only have to do the thing for 25 minutes (or however long, if you tweak the increments) has made a tremendous impact in my life.

As a little bonus and added benefit, I've been developing a positive perception of productivity by measuring time spent on tasks in 'pomodoros'. For example: instead of 'ugh I only wrote for 25 minutes today, I should've written for longer', I can now say 'today I did ONE WHOLE pomodoro, and maybe tomorrow I'll see if I can do TWO'. I've used this method for eeeverything from chores to workouts to leisure reading, and everything in between.

Also seconding the idea of keeping a Bullet Journal. A word of caution and advice: unless you're a person that is motivated by decoration to also keep yourself on track for task completion, keep it simple. Just get a pen and a notebook (I find dots work best, but you do you). In my experience, the original BuJo method and key/legend is the most straightforward. Some people find that more washi tape helps them get more things done. I am not one of those people. (Because I'll end up researching tape/stencils/BuJo setups/keys endlessly and nothing will get done.) Bonus note: you can totally keep a Bullet Journal in OneNote, just in case analog isn't your thing.

Also, for your aim of 'maximising leisure time': in my experience the best way to do this is to schedule it in. For two reasons. A: scheduling my leisure time keeps me technically working within my schedule, especially as it's super easy to kind of binge on free time if I don't contain it carefully. B: it helps me relax without the guilt and nagging worries that I have other, more important things to do. Everything I've scheduled is important, and my free time is scheduled. Shuts up my anxious self right quick.

If you're anything like me, it might help to see what a set-up using the stuff I mentioned above might actually look like. So here's a really brief example: I've set up my Bullet Journal and listed all the tasks I need to do. I've marked which ones are the most important with a symbol, but everything written I need to get done at some point. I really need to get started, but I also can't be bothered, so I make a deal to just pick the first thing on the list and do it for 25 minutes. If it doesn't get done, I'll migrate it to the next day to be finished. I do the thing for 25 minutes, or one classic pomodoro. Yay! I'm resting for five minutes. I could probably do the thing for another 25 minutes. I do. It's done! Cross it off my list. I feel like I could do another thing for another 25 minutes. Move to another thing on the list, but this time choose one marked with 'most important' symbol because I now feel motivated enough to properly dig into a big task. Rinse, repeat.

I hope this helps you and good luck!

PS: I've also used task management tools like WunderList (which is being replaced by some other Microsoft thing, so be aware) to kind of digitally identify, organise, and prioritise tasks and appointments. In my experience an analog method (as with BuJo) is good for accountability, and physical routine is personally helpful in keeping myself on track. But your needs might be different and thankfully there are lots of options for apps/tools out there that can help.
posted by Vrai at 7:25 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

You talk about a transformation a few times, but I don't think there's ever a point when you can say to yourself, "Yes! I've arrived." You have to keep experimenting and trying systems that work for you. You'll find an app that works great. You'll happen to pick a book out of the slush pile that clicks.

Keep in mind that it's constantly evolving. What works for you one year may not feel so compelling the next. Or you may have a system that's been working great, but you may go through phases when you lose motivation to keep it running. Maybe then you'll have to make some adjustments. Still, with practice and time, you will likely get better overall at time management.
posted by Leontine at 9:31 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another vote for the bullet journal. Since I started using it, I've missed far fewer deadlines and gotten more done. I use mine in conjunction with a Google calendar.
posted by Miko at 7:24 PM on August 28, 2017

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