I work from home. My schedule is mine to organize, arrange, and use as sensibly as I can. To do that, I need help managing my time wisely. I plan to start substitute teaching as soon as school starts back up again. Then I will need even more help managing my time – using what’s left over to accomplish everything I need and want to accomplish in my writing. I have found some techniques and tools that work for me – and I want to share them with you.
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Techniques for Managing My Time Wisely
The first technique I’ve adopted, that has made a real difference for me, is to focus on producing instead of working. I can work and accomplish nothing. I think most people can. The busy-ness of working can obscure the fact that sometimes I don’t produce anything: blog posts, a new chapter, an email, or graphics. Instead, I spend time on research, learning about the technical aspects of blogging, or reading someone else’s email.
This focus on producing has been a game changer for me. I can sit down and say, “In two hours I’ll have one blog post finished, along with the graphics.” This puts pressure on me to keep my focus and not be distracted by anything that will stop me from producing. It also means that I set aside non-producing time for learning and research.
The second technique is the Pomodoro technique. I used this technique extensively when finishing my recently-published book, Rising Above the Fog. The Pomodoro technique, created in the 90s by Francesco Cirillo, is based on four steps:
- Set a time (the Pomodoro – so named because the time was tomato shaped, and pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato) for 25 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, take a short 5-minute break.
- Go through the cycle four times
- Then take a longer 15- to 30-minute break.
When using the Pomodoro Technique, I like to take a short walk around the kitchen or driveway for my 5-minute breaks and do some simple house-cleaning for the longer breaks. That way, I get the change of pace I need, some physical movement, and manage to keep my house clean.
The final technique I use is to take some time every evening to schedule the next day. I tried mapping out the entire week at a time but found that didn’t work for me. So, every evening I review what I accomplished, go over my long-term plans for writing, and schedule the next day. I include home items (clean the bathrooms, laundry), errands (groceries, library), career tasks (write a post, mind-map a chapter), and personal improvement (walk, read). Not everything gets scheduled every day and not everything gets accomplished that I plan. But I have a plan going into every day.
Tools for Managing My Time Wisely
Note: I am sharing tools I find helpful. I get no compensation for recommending them.
I started using Asana about a month ago and have found it very useful. I love the calendar feature, where I can see all my tasks for all my projects at one time. Or I can view just one project at a time if I want. I can sort tasks by due date, project, or completion. I like that I can review completed tasks and see what notes I wrote to myself. I schedule tasks one to four weeks ahead, but as I get used to it, that may increase. I also love that it is free for the basic edition, which is all I need.
I have a desktop computer and a laptop. I love that I can sync all my documents in Dropbox and have them available anywhere. No more thumb drives (unless my old desktop decides not to do the Internet thing, which it sometimes does). I found the basic free service wasn’t enough for me, so I have the lowest paid plan – which is 1 TB of storage. That should be plenty for me for quite a while.
I fell in love with Excel years ago, and still use it a lot. I keep my editorial calendar and blog ideas on Excel, with one sheet in a workbook for each month. I can just cut-and-paste ideas into the correct date. Once I have my calendar mapped out three or more months out, I start filling in my Asana tasks. I can’t imagine finding something as simple as Excel – except maybe Google Sheets – and will probably use it for years to come.
My Bullet Journal
For those that don’t know what a bullet journal (or bujo) is, check out this post I did a while back. I primarily use my bujo as a calendar, a to-do list, and a brainstorm notebook. All my ideas are written long-hand and then vetted for adding to my editorial calendar in Excel. I also brainstorm products, courses, emails, and goals. I record ideas from courses I take and books I read. The best thing about the bujo: I’ll never lose it like I would with loose papers. I tried used a planner – many times – but keep coming back to the bujo. Now I’m just working on making it quicker and simpler to use. And no, I’m not artistic and my bujo isn’t pretty – it’s pretty basic!
Yes, I use my phone – specifically the timer on my phone – a lot! I also have the Asana, Dropbox, and Excel apps on my phone, but don’t’ use them nearly as much as the timer. The timer is what I use most for productivity. It is my favorite tool for the Pomodoro technique, working on a deadline, or even perusing Facebook (set the timer for 20 minutes, and when time’s up it’s back to work).
That’s it; the tools and techniques I use to keep me on track. But, while considering techniques and tools, it’s always good to keep in mind the principles of the Word:
Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16