This is a Guest Post by Varada. Varada is a software industry professional who lives and works in India. She is also a doting mom, hobbyist, crafter, and blogger at:
http://naari-thewoman.com and http://mealtimes.blogspot.com.
I needed some way better than that. I am a wife, mother of two princesses, a software industry worker who manages two project teams side by side, and a person with at least three hobbies I love to spend time on (making jewelry, cooking & writing). It is crucial for me to manage my activities within the time available if I am to get at least something done by the end of a day.
This post explains what I found to work for me. If you have been struggling to make sense of your daily activities, you can try this out too. These are not ground rules or universal truths. They are simple, easy to master ideas which anyone wanting to manage their activities can learn from. So, off we go:
#1 First things first: Know what you want to get done
- First task for managing anything would undoubtedly be knowing *what* you want to manage. So, you can start by creating a list of tasks you would like to achieve within a given day.
- You can derive this from what you want to achieve in a week. It is also a good idea to set aside some time each day for activities that add value to your life. (That needs a separate discussion, so let’s not digress right now.)
- At this point we are simply writing all that we want to do. We’ll prioritize and schedule later, so don’t restrict yourself just yet with questions like ‘what if’.
#2 Set an order: Prioritize
- Now that you know what you want to get done, sort the listed tasks in order of their importance and relevance. Typically classifying them as urgent / important works as well.
- Urgent ones are those that demand immediate attention. Important ones are things that are not really urgent, but need to be taken care of to avoid hassles later. Take for example, servicing my bike is *important*. Getting my broken brakes replaced right away is *urgent*. If I take care of servicing on a regular basis, the chances of me getting into urgent situations like replacing brakes will be reduced considerably.
- If your activities have been chaotic till now, you will find yourself spending more time on urgent things when you get started with this new routine. Once you get into a habit of identifying important things before they become urgent, things will become a lot easier to handle.
#3 Allocate time in chunks
- This point is the crux of this post. Instead of trying to all at once, set aside time for each item.
- I personally find that I can work in an intense concentrated fashion for 30 to 40 mins. After that I need some change. So I’ll go with the plan of dividing bigger tasks or aligning smaller ones so that I can work on each collection within a sprint of 30-40 mins.
- For example, if I have to review documents created by others, I’ll line up 1 or more documents based on their length to fit one sprint. If I plan to write articles, I’ll set aside time for all writing activities aligned together or in successive sprints. I feel that once the writing flows, it becomes easier to go on. If I am creating schedules or task plans for my teams at work, I’ll do these activities one after the other. That way I can tackle them more easily.
- One important technique that focuses on time chunking is the Pomodoro (Tomato in Italian) Technique. They call one sprint of 25 mins as one Pomodoro and the rest remains more or less same.
- Whether you follow the 25 mins pomodoro or 30 mins sprint or something else, bottom line is to give yourself small, achievable goals and keep completing them. Each pomodoro or a sprint is indivisible. Either you complete the whole of it or you cancel the whole of it. You cannot work on part of the task and then go do something unscheduled within one 25 / 30 mins slot.
#4 Schedule breaks
- It is also essential to take breaks in between every two sprints. These help refresh your mind.
- Having completed the sprint successfully also gives you a feeling of having earned a break.
- Breaks can be anywhere between 5 to 15 mins. You can get yourself a cup of coffee or freshen up and talk to a friend during a break.
#5 Execute the plan
- Once you have chalked out what you want to do and when, get started with the execution. As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Initially you might find it hard to even complete one sprint. But push yourself into this for at least 21 days so your brain can really absorb this routine.
#6 Dealing with interruption
- Phone calls, emails, chats or people asking for help – anything that takes you away from executing your current task at hand is an interruption.
- To deal with distractions like phone call or emails, you need to get more self disciplined. Resist that urge to quickly open the mailbox or check on your aunt in the middle of a sprint. Close off email programs, online chats and if possible, even your phone.
- To deal with people who come asking for help, explain to them that you are in the middle of an important task and will get back to them as soon as you are done. Do make sure that you go and follow up with them during your break time.
- In an ideal world people can take care of all distractions or interruptions when they are in between a sprint. But in real life, this may not be the case always. You are the best judge to decide whether the interruption is important enough to cancel your sprint or you can postpone the interruption.
#7 Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 throughout your day.
- At the end of each day, take a stock of what you have achieved. Analyze your planned vs. actual tasks. This will help you become better at estimating time required for various activities. It will also add focus to the next day’s activities.
Once you get your activities under control, you will have each day under control. With each day you’ll find yourself becoming more disciplined and confident. But till you reach a stage you are satisfied, keep yourself motivated. Every week give yourself something to look forward to. If you manage to complete 70% of your planned activities within the first week, it can be something as simple as a day of sleeping till late. After all that hard work you’ll deserve it!
Before I stop typing I will remiss if I do not cite the sources for some of the ideas. I stumbled on this site: http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/ and really found the material they have very helpful for anyone wanting to go for time chunking.