Time Management, Minutes at a Time
Over the years, I’ve kept To-Do lists in just about every form imaginable as my own way of time management. My favorite current app is OmniFocus, which is a little pricey but I use on my home computer, iPad, and smart phone. I’m willing to pay more for this particular software because of the way it creates projects, folders, contexts, actions, forecasts, etc. In other words, it’s the most comprehensive tool I’ve found thus far that fits my particular needs.
However, my time management tip for you can be used on most any software or even on your yellow legal pad punch list if you like low-tech.
I lead a very, VERY busy life and I rarely have a stretch of two hours or six hours and even all day to work on any one project. When I do, I try to focus on those big deal, high intensity, biggest bang tasks that need a full few hours of intense focus. The mindless little tasks that eat up my day? I knock those out in small increments.
Either make a list or add a feature to your current software so that you have a list of all the things you can accomplish in a short period of time. I have 3 special lists for five minutes, 20 minutes, and one hour.
A lot of the five minute tasks can be completed while waiting in line or between other chores, even while walking to a meeting in another building. Examples: bringing dirty laundry from the hamper in the back of the house to the washing machine takes five minutes. Loading the dishwasher takes five minutes. Downloading my w2 form off my employer’s website so that it’ll be ready for tax season? Five minutes.
The 20-minute tasks take a little more thought or effort and fit between other chores. For example, I can get in a complete high intensity interval training workout in 20 minutes. The piece of equipment I’d planned to sell on craigslist? In 20 minutes, I can snap a few photos, log in, and upload the photos and a description of the item I want to sell. I can probably do it in less than 20, but in the case of this particular item, I know I’ll want several photos and lengthier description that will include taking measurements. For a book I’m working on, I need first to locate an old file to edit, but I don’t remember the exact title so I’ve allocated 20 minutes to find it and then batch it with the rest of the files for this project.
Every now and then, I’ll have a spare hour between other events. Maybe it’s between a workout and bedtime. Maybe it’s after dinner but before I’m to meet a friend. Maybe I have an hour between the end of my work day and the beginning of a personal finance class I’m taking. These little one-hour increments of time can really wipe out of my more complicated projects. All I need is an hour to crank out a blog post while I’m sitting in the car waiting for my class to start. In an hour, I can complete a small home-improvement project, such as nailing a PVC tile backsplash over the sink in the office. I could spend the hour before sunset planting flowers in my backyard. I might even knock out the supply closet in an hour or it might be easier to split it into five- or 20-minute increments.
This is just a different way of looking at and sorting through tasks–not by subject matter but by how much spare time you have at any given moment. Don’t think you can get much done in 20 minutes? When my kids were little, I could carve out 20 minutes while they watched Barney on TV, and in those 20 minutes, I could unload the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, load the washing machine, get dinner in the oven, call my mom, water the plants, mop the floor, and put away the kids’ clothes!