Using your time series: Looking at time

When you try to do something, you may run across people who suggest you do “just a little bit each day.” Flylady is a big proponent of this method, saying “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” On the other end of the spectrum, you have research that talks about the 90-minute rhythm to our lives — in sleep and in work. Notice that what these have in common is that they’re actually shorter than expecting to sit down and write, program, play an instrument, or whatever all day long. They give us time to take breaks and time to shift gears.

Tobias Buckell posted last month about his work habits, which gave me some food for thought, and changed the way I approach my day a bit. I didn’t copy everything he does, but there’s a lot of good advice there.

I personally find a mix of the two time frames to be useful, though I tend to go with 20 to 30 minutes rather than 15 at the short end. I try to sit down and write for 30 minutes on a fiction project first thing in the morning, before checking e-mail or social networking sites or even my blog. (Operative word there is try.) Ideally, after I check e-mail and such, I then sit down for a longer stint — up to 2 hours — on paying work. These longer blocks of time are separated by fiddling about on-line, eating lunch, going for a walk, or more 30-minute blocks of writing. Ideally, I’d do the longer blocks of time for writing, too, when I don’t have paying work on hand, but it never seems to work out that way — if I am writing all day, it’s still in those 20- to 30-minute chunks.

But when do you work?

Well, given my druthers, I’d be writing from 11 p.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. That’s just when the work seems to flow the best, when I’m not as worried about interruptions from family, and when I am less likely to seek out distractions on-line. However, that doesn’t work well with the family schedule, so I’m trying to sort out a day shift that works for me. Still.

It changes based on various things, like whether I’m exercising, whether school’s in session, and what the rest of the family’s schedules are like. For example, last year, my son’s school day went from 9:00 to 3:30 (give or take 5 minutes), but this year, it runs 8:15 to 3:00. Also, he has band before school two days a week. That means instead of having the house to myself starting at 8:30 when he leaves for the school bus, it’s closer to 7:30 when I can start doing things for the day. This means changing to be even more of a morning person and getting things done first thing.

That might be good. Some people cite studies that show practicing violin or chess first thing in the morning is more conducive to mastery. (See the Schwartz 90-minute post linked above, as well as Ericsson’s article on deliberate practice, wherein he cites other work on famous authors.) The well-rested brain is a fresh brain, or something like that. So tackling my writing and everything else earlier might lead to better concentration and more accomplished. I’ll let you know — it’s not like I have a choice in it right now, anyway.

Those, then, are the three things to think about for your time management and productivity:

  • How much time do you use?
  • When do you use it?
  • What other calls on your time do you have to allow for?

As always, please share any insights of your own, tips and tricks that you find helpful, or questions on things I may have skipped or not been clear on. Thanks for reading.

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8 Comments

  1. Excellent advice about time management. You’re so right that each year is different depending on what’s going on with our families. My boys, 15 and almost 13, have been in school 3 whole days now, and I’m working on a routine. So far I’ve been setting up my I FINALLY HAVE AN OFFICE! I’m very excited to no longer have to try to put all my stuff away so that we can eat dinner…yes, it’s a corner of the living room, but I’m making it inviting, and it will encourage me to keep it relatively clutter free since it’s visible from the front door. I’m a big fan of the FlyLady principle of setting a time limit. It’s really helped me to focus. I do find that I can just keep going much longer knowing that I can quit after 15 minutes. My house has slowly transformed over the last year and I’m quite pleased.
    Nice to meet you, Erin. Thanks for your input at the A-Z blog regarding the survey.
    Tina @ Life is Good

    • Congrats on having your own office area to write in! That’s wonderful, Tina.

      Time limits can help, especially if my trouble is getting going on something. πŸ™‚

      Nice to meet you, too. Thanks for putting the survey up. It helped me think about blogging and comments in different ways.

  2. My best friend is my kitchen timer … 45 minutes off … do something physical, even if it’s making the bed … then another 45 minute shift. This way I don’t get too stiff from sitting for too long, and I get through most of the house chores. Of course life or inspiration happens and that lovely tidy system goes right out the window … but I always come back to it.

    • Wonderful system, Widdershins, and it sounds like you’ve found the time period that works well for you!

  3. I make the mistake of checking the computer first…which ends up eating half my morning. I need to write first, then check emails, FB, etc. Thanks for the reminder!

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