Time optimization?
February 26, 2008 11:57 AM   Subscribe

In the space of a busy life, full-time work, girlfriend, and misc other interests, how does one pave the way for larger projects?

As everyone can attest to, there just aren't enough hours in the day, sure, I could try sleep deprivation, but that really cuts into my creative ability.

I enjoy programming, playing music, writing, reading, and hanging with the love of my life. I have a number of greater vision-type projects I would very much like to complete. Needless to say, my girlfriend is the greatest priority and greatest hindrance in this aim.

After the mandatory 8+.5 work day, 1.5 hour commute, that leaves 6 hours, allowing for a good sleep cycle. Lets cut an extra hour for meal prep, chores and personal grooming.

What would be an optimal way to plan this very limited time?

Lets jump past the GTD, I understand the basics of setting small goals and personal organization.

I'm really interested in your time-optimization strategies.
posted by emptyinside to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
How are you utilizing your 90 minute commute? That's the first thing that jumped out at me. Read, write, work on a laptop, etc. if you aren't already. If you driving are alone in your car, join a carpool so you have to drive only fewer times per week.
posted by Nelsormensch at 12:08 PM on February 26, 2008

Plan for and take a sabbatical.

And if your savings don't permit a sabbatical, take a long hard look at your earnings vs. your lifestyle choices.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:12 PM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The biggest time optimization strategy is to cut some things out. If you want to work on a big project, you may not be able to keep up with all your interests.

This article from the NY Times this week is about precisely what you're talking about.
posted by OmieWise at 12:15 PM on February 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I bike to work, hard to read when you're doing that...

I try to get away at least once a year.

I like my sleep. ;)

Cutting things out is the kind of thing I'm looking for.
posted by emptyinside at 12:26 PM on February 26, 2008

Best answer: First try looking at what you can combine.

* Food prep + girlfriend time = spend a couple of hours cooking together on Sunday to make a big mess of food you can freeze and reheat throughout the week
* Commute + reading = books on tape
* Reading + girlfriend time = reading to each other

Then prioritize.

* Which is more important, keeping up with blogs or reading a novel? Cut one.
* Which gives you greater creative satisfaction, writing a good program or playing music? Do that one.

Obviously, these might not be the exact trade-offs that apply to your situation, but it seems like "stuff" will expand to fit the available time. So make sure you do your highest priority things first, and then fill in the gaps as necessary.
posted by MsMolly at 12:30 PM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What I've found is that I can have only one big thing.

I have a lot of different interests, and abilities, and things I'd like to do. When I try to apportion my "spare" time fairly among them, I make so little progress that I might as well goof off and do nothing. You can't advance in a way that's satisfying on an hour or two a week.

In the last year I have given up on being Middle Class Renaissance Man and just chosen one thing to work on, whenever I can, until that thing is finished. This has made me much happier, as I've seen a satisfying result from that activity, and I've stopped beating myself up with unreal expectations about achieving in all the other areas.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:35 PM on February 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I dont know if this will help you, but i run into this problem where i have too many projects i want to work on.

I have found that two extra projects is the max i can do. Any more and i am overloaded and any less and i am not motivated enough to work on it.

And a question i ask myself when choosing these projects is "In 5 years, will i be heart broken if i DIDN'T do it?"

I know this might not help day-to-day but it helps me with my long term goals.

Another good way to save time is to combine things. For instance-- in any of the projects you want to work on-- can your girlfriend help? Then you can spend quality time together while working on one of your projects as well.

Good luck!
posted by modernsquid at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2008

It would help a lot if you could combine things. E.g. girlfriend time is also reading or writing or programming time. That's where old married farts such as myself pick up a lot of extra time. We lay at opposite ends of the couch with good books and it counts for reading and close time together. Same for the commute; in the comfy seat of a train you could get a lot done. Any odds of moving near your job or moving a job near you? Maybe even less money, but some trade-off okay for smaller commute expenses and higher amounts of your own time.

Again, the marrieds have the advantage, but IF you could live without each other for one weekend a month, those could be dedicated to yourself and a big block of time for other pursuits that you couldn't/wouldn't otherwise share with your g.f. Pre-gather your supplies; groceries, project materials, etc. so you don't have to walk out of your door from Friday 6 pm til Monday 6 am. Unplug the phones and TV and email. Give yourself an occasional break to phone G.F. and read her a poem you found or otherwise express the smallest fraction of your unbound love, etc.

Do the same combining things with vacation time, if possible. Take a workshop in a town far enough away to be "away" and take G.F. She shops/tours/reads whilst you learn and you have great evenings together.
posted by davidaugust111 at 12:37 PM on February 26, 2008

In my experience you just start rearranging priorities. I live alone and lurk alone and generally when not completely lazy get a lot of my own projects done despite my full time job. And getting those projects done IS my number one priority. I work a few nights a week (sleeping less) and devote my weekends to them. I generally gravitate towards quick dinner and a drink after work than hangouts that would suck a whole evening up.

I have no clue how you would do this within relationship, unless she started up some projects of her own.

good luck.
posted by mrs.pants at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can recommend a book called The Now Habit, which is about overcoming procrastination but would help you here.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2008

Thanks OmieWise, that article was awesome.
posted by special-k at 12:41 PM on February 26, 2008

Are there any big projects that your girlfriend would be able and willing to collaborate on? She might not be interested, or you might want to keep your big projects to yourself, but if you both are willing it could be seriously awesome for your relationship as well as for your goals.

You don't mention how much time you spend with your girlfriend or how you spend that time; I'm nthing combining girlfriend time with project/reading/whatever time. There's some line in High Fidelity (the book, at least, not sure about the movie, and honestly I could be grossly misquoting this anyway) how new couples go through life face-to-face, but after a while they start going through life side-by-side; you and your girlfriend might need to start taking more of a side-by-side attitude.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:02 PM on February 26, 2008

pick one project you want to do.

Do it for one hour a day. Do it every single day.

That's enough time to accomplish just about anything, if you're consistent.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:13 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't take on too much, because you'll inevitably hit a point of low energy and not be able to keep everything going.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 1:22 PM on February 26, 2008

In the last year I have given up on being Middle Class Renaissance Man and just chosen one thing to work on, whenever I can, until that thing is finished.

This is the best advice you'll find. Nowhere is it written that people have to maximize every minute of their time as the world's most productive autodidact. Pick one thing, work it until you're "done", however you define "done", and go from there.
posted by pdb at 1:28 PM on February 26, 2008

Cut out all television. Cut out all non-work/non-project internet use (Metafilter, blogs, etc.). Those two things might free up a surprising amount of time.

Get the girlfriend involved in the greater vision-type projects so you can work on them and spend time with her at the same time.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:33 PM on February 26, 2008

I think I disagree with the advice above to focus on one thing, nail it down, and move on to the next. It just isn't that simple sometimes, because everything is important. Putting your energy into one thing at a time is how the day gets stretched out, in my experience. From a productivity standpoint, it may be best, but because time is of the essence, it doesn't work as well.

Are you really opposed to sleeping less? This was the easiest way for me to fit everything/one in that I needed. For whatever reason, I feel I program most efficiently with the end of the day looming.

Barring that, I think the best thing you can do is try to mashup some of your competing interests. Take any of your meal prep time, or your hobbies, and work your girlfriend into them. The suggestion to cook multiple days worth of meals at once is a great idea. If your girlfriend ever brings work home, you two could always "work" together/next to each other. It isn't quite hanging out, but it's better than being apart. YMMV on that.

Programming, books, music, etc - these things are at your disposal. Be sure to focus on your interpersonal relationships first. Sometimes your work/creative hobbies will suffer because of these relationships, and you have to tell yourself that it'll just have to wait.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 1:45 PM on February 26, 2008

Umm, you're totally forgetting weekends.

You can see the GF on Friday night, chuck her out Saturday morning, and code / design / write your ass off for the rest of the weekend. You can cram 20 or 30 hours in easy and still get to bed at a good hour on Sunday for the next week.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:55 PM on February 26, 2008

I mention this in threads a lot, but if you don't want to pick between things, the book Refuse to Choose might be helpful to you. The biggest take away for me was that you don't necessarily have to do all at once. Work on a program for a few months. When that's done, move on to writing some music, or whatever you're most interested in doing at that time.

It also offers strategies for doing everything at once if you so choose (like making each interest very organized and modular so when you want to make music you just pull out the box of music stuff and get to work).
posted by drezdn at 2:54 PM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

maybe quit your job and try to create a job out of your own projects or interests if your job doesnt fulfill you enough.

seconding drjimmy11 and pdb about picking one (or a couple) of interests and committing to them for a significant amount of time.

this is probably the best article i ever read about time management.
posted by 4n0nym0u5 at 3:04 PM on February 26, 2008

I have varied interests. Instead of putting new ones in a box until the day that will never come I put them on a list and commit to spending at least one minute per day on each of them. Yes, just one minute. Doesn't seem like much but that one minute turns into 5, 10 and sometimes an hour. This came about because I was frustrated with the streaky attention I paid to the guitar. I would go months playing every day then take 6 months off and lose my callouses. One minute is great because if it's late and I've had a busy day I can always pick up my guitar and play for a minute - funny what seems like a chore very often turns into the one thing that gives me peace for the day.
posted by any major dude at 4:03 PM on February 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Well, if you can get public transport or something for the commute (though yeah, I'm aware this is unlikely in a lot of places), that frees up time. Can you sneak your eating in while working and then use your lunch hour at work to work on stuff?

I've found that I get more stuff done "on the road" than I do at home, somehow, and I get more stuff done if it doesn't absolutely require that I do it at home. Home is a time-suck for getting stuff done, especially if you've got a girlfriend in it and it's the only time in your long day that you can relax. Inertia kicks in and next thing you know, all you did was watch TV. Writing can be done on a train, for example, if you have a laptop or Alphasmart or some portable machine or other.

Would your girlfriend also be interested in doing projects? Maybe you could have project time designated and both of you work on stuff then?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:25 PM on February 26, 2008

One of the things that is surprising to me (still!) is how much can get done in small chunks of time. 5-15 minute blocks are often easier to find than 1-2 hour blocks. I find myself often discounting these little bits of time as useless but when I do take advantage of them it is amazing how much can get done.

So, maybe you can make more progress than you think without having to stake out hours at a stretch. In this regard, good planning (GTD, xplanner, etc.) helps so that you quickly find small tasks to dispatch during the small window of time you find available.

Geez, I hope that makes sense -- cold meds are wierding me out a bit.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:49 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

What would Tyler Durden do? Work on your projects during work time.

This can work well for programming (depending on your job), but probably not as well for making music or monumental sculpture ideas. But yeah, double dip. Perhaps there's a way to plausibly work on your programming project that would also benefit your employer.
posted by zpousman at 5:43 PM on February 26, 2008

wow....I have been wondering how to find ways to work on grand projects, and my situation is very close to the OPs, hours wise to begin with.
Even many of our hobbies are the same, as is our commitment to our significant other's. Difference is, I am married and we also have a dog.

I guess, simply by being here I prove that I do waste a lot of time online, but here are some tips.Combining, aka multitasking, is the key:

I read a lot during my bus/subway commute. All those trashy novels that have no practical value, that's where they go. I also listen to music, and I plan (but somehow never get around to. lazy me ) to put some language lessons on my MP3 player.

Writing: I have a Handheld PC (Jornada 680), which while being small to fit anywhere, it also allows for touch typing. Thus I am free to take that around and type my stories from anywhere, which means right now on the couch.

I also enjoy programming, and I recently got a job where I do just that. The downside is that I don't feel like programming off hours, so my grandiose projects in that area have been put on hold :)

Another hobby of mine is Martial Arts (many types of them), and since I also exercise, I consider the lessons (currently boxing) , as a work-out substitute for that day.
posted by spacefire at 7:16 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

just start the big project. maybe take a day off from the gf one saturday, get well into it, and voila - when you get some free time and have to choose between your many misc interests, you're going to choose the big project. stuff that you cant (and dont want to) avoid, like spending time with the girlfriend, you'll do, though maybe slightly less often. but the other stuff should just naturally fall by the wayside till the big projects completion, once you've gotten a good start on the big project.

another way to make sure the big project gets done is to involve someone else who's equally (or more) gung ho, if that's plausible. i never seem to have time to do various recording projects with my band that i have to do by myself, but i'm about to finish a side project with another musician simply because he showed up at my studio every monday night for the last 3 months, so i couldn't help but work on it.
posted by messiahwannabe at 8:44 PM on February 26, 2008

1. Stop watching TV. This alone will open a massive amount of time, if you're like most people.
2. Explain to your girlfriend that you love her, but you need an hour a night just for you, without interruption. Have your own space that you can go to, and shut the door. Make it a space you can feel creative in. Go. Create.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 8:48 PM on February 26, 2008

Best answer: any major dude has told you: sometimes even one minute of activity, one paragraph of a novel, one sentence of writing, whatever, will keep you connected to a project. You'll know you're sorta cheating, but you'll also know it's a great way to stay in touch and keep something valuable until you do have an hour to devote. The silliness and the truth of this notion is best exemplified in this brilliant edition of PhD comics.

Personally, I just want to underscore what folks have said about the tv-watchin' and the internet-readin'. I'm not saying you do much of either, so ignore the following if you don't. I know, even though I watch nearly no tv, and am not nearly as embroiled in online life as many are, that online reading is my biggest time-user. (Damn you, mefites, for pulling me in just as I'd given up on ever finding a discussion board that was worthwhile!) I'm very conscious lately that society is quickly crafting two worlds, one online and one off-line, and it's sad that it's so hard sometimes to disconnect and commit to the one that isn't pixellated, especially since all of the momentum these days seems to be going the other way. I'm betting your "bigger vision" projects don't involve the internet, so keep that in mind, and live accordingly. Look closely at your daily blog-reading, or bookface using, or whatever the kids call it these days, and ask if they really do contribute to your projects. Yes, I know I'm recommending you get off the internet while I'm on the internet, but hey, we're solving your problem today, not mine.

One of my guiding principles is that you should think of a 24 hour day as mirroring in minuscule the life you want to have. If you want to accomplish something in your life, put it in every day. To make room, squeeze out the stuff that only seems important on a day-to-day level but not on a lifetime level. Because, honestly, in the end, your life is made up of days, and what you do in your day is what you end up doing in your life. Because, s the late Janis Joplin said, "it's all the same fucking day, man."
posted by roombythelake at 12:18 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Looking back over your prior AskMes, it looks like you and your SO are in compatible fields. I'd think about ways that you can combine your skills into a business or serious off-time pursuit. This would certainly give you time together (my husband and I ran a business together for almost 20 years-- he did the creative side and I did the business management. 12 of those years we did it full time. Plenty of togetherness there, let me tell you.) What's the "big project?" Your brief description leads me to think that you really might be able to go at it in this way.
posted by nax at 4:21 AM on February 27, 2008

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