Time management concl’d

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.William Penn

Time management, as explained in the first installment of this 42-post-long mini-series, refers to making the best use of the limited resource which is time. Well aware that time management is not a magic trick to create time, l was still hoping that the time gained with increased efficiency could be used, in the long run, for my CogitActive activities. In the first instance, it may seem not to make a lot of sense to spend so much time writing these posts. After all, I could have used it to work on CogitActive instead. With the promise to get more done in less time, it was however worth delving into the wide variety of tips, tricks, and methods to develop good time management skills. Now, it is time to wrap it up.

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.Peter Drucker

From simple tips…

There are many aspects of time management that I can – and will – implement to increase my productivity, hence my time. However, some recommendations like Schedule your most challenging tasks for the times of day when your energy levels are highest. That way, your work will be of better quality, and it should take you less time to do. are just impracticable. Indeed, spending most of the day at work prevents me from working on CogiActive in the morning, or even during normal hours, when I am more energetic and creative. The truth is that I can work on CogitActive only after a long – not a typical eight-hour work day, not to mention cooking & housekeeping – and exhausting day.

That being said, here are a few tips worse following:

Protecting my time by insulation and isolation. This involves keeping my office door (at work) closed – unfortunately, I cannot apply this useful piece of practical advice at home! – and resisting the temptation to look at my emails as soon as they arrive. For the latter, I have turned off the alert that signals me when I receive one and I am now checking (and responding to) them at set times of the day.

Overcoming procrastination. While I still fill my day with low-priority tasks, I am getting out of the habit of reading emails several times over without deciding on what to do with them. One tiny step at a time, right? Of course, I still have to tackle the two hindering factors that interfere with both willpower and motivation: feeling overwhelmed and being exhausted.

Making the best use of my slump time. When I have an energy (or motivation) dip, I now force myself to work anyway by doing beneficial but less important things. In keeping with this idea, I have also adopted a strategy that prevents me from repeatedly hitting the snooze button. And it works!

Taking necessary breaks. More on this in the next post.

Jumping immediately from one task or meeting to the next may seem like a good use of your time, but it actually has the opposite effect. We need time to clear our minds and recharge by going for a walk, meditating, or just daydreaming.John Rampton

Last, but not least, I will try to be wiser than last year (see Sick, again! and/or The vicious circle of bad decision-making) and next time I will be sick1, I should follow the sound advice expounded in the following post:

To more or less advanced techniques …

I could not find anything in the most popular techniques (e.g., Pomodoro, Pareto Principle, Eat That Frog, and Biological Prime Time) that suits my personality best. I needed drastic measures – to be more productive and efficient with my time and accomplish more in less time – and found what I was looking for in more advanced techniques instead. I have decided to put a few of these tried-and-true strategies together in a meaningful way – at least for me.

Time blocking
A productivity technique for personal time management where a period of time—typically a day or week—is divided into smaller segments or blocks for specific tasks or to-dos.

As described in the so-called Wikipedia article, this extremely effective technique is based on a single-tasking mindset, promoting devoting one’s full attention to a task for a specified duration of time. The main benefit of time blocking is that it helps users achieve more in the same amount of time. Let me repeat this, achieve more in the same amount of time. Exactly what I was looking for!

I have charted every day of my whole week – 168 hours – out. I have blocks from the time I get up to the time I (now force myself to) go to sleep. On that note, even sleeping has a dedicated block! I have blocks while at work and blocks at home; I have blocks for everything. Some blocks are as short as 5-min, and some can be 4 hours long (not to mention the 6 hours of sleep that I now indulge myself with). In keeping with the aforementioned sleep example, I even time block personal time such as a 30-min lunch break every day, a 1-hour me time every Sunday, or an evening OFF once a week. Importantly, I could even squeeze – within reasonable hours – four 2-hour blocks dedicated to CogitActive. Last but not least, I have reserved devoted, quality time blocks for my family; my baby boy, in particular.

All I need to do is follow my time-blocked schedule.

For some specific tasks, I combine time blocking with timeboxing (see Time management: more advanced techniques for more info on the latter technique); this productive sense of urgency allows me to accomplish more indeed. During these blocks, I focus on achieving as much as I can until the timebox expires. However, as opposed to the other regular blocks, in between these intense time blocks, I take pre-scheduled breaks to refresh and decompress – even if only to go to the restroom2.

Time blocking is essentially a thoughtful approach to budgeting the set amount of hours you have each day between all the things you need to do. Timely

To be on top form

There are only so many hours per day, even as we push back the frontiers of sleeplessness.James Fallows

I went that path. Oh wrong! I erroneously thought that I could create more time for work by cutting exercise from my schedule and reducing my sleep time. Sleeping less actually had a negative impact in both the short and long run. All I managed to do is to get sick more often instead.

If I want to keep up with the fierce rhythm imposed by my time-blocked week, I have to consider my health. Putting back healthy life habits – such as having quality sleep and exercising – will definitively help me achieve more when I get to work (and hopefully, keep sickness at bay). That is why I have scheduled time to relax in my week – and I don’t feel any guilt. If this can help me to rejuvenate both physically and mentally, it should enable me to accomplish my tasks more quickly and easily.

Consider your health. Take breaks, get rest, and don’t work on your holidays or every weekend. Have some periods of complete downtime. And sleep!Kate Eby

To a full-blown method

According to its creator, GTP is a set of best practices that allows you to get more space in your head, so you have more bandwidth, attention, and ability to focus on the most meaningful stuff. Equally important, it gives me a single organizational system for all my projects, both personal and work-related. Admittedly, this effective self-management method is complex; if you want to use the system effectively, you have to understand it in detail and practice it consistently. But I have decided to give it a try.

There must be a reason why millions of people around the world swear that Getting Things Done changed their lives.

Without going into detail (see this video series to learn more), the core process is a five-step method for managing your workflow. You (1) capture what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options you (4) reflect on, which you then choose to (5) engage with. In the latter step, you use four criteria to decide what to do next: Context, time available, energy available, and priority.

With the Getting-Things-Done method, you can take your task management to a new level.Annalena Simonis

The beauty of GTD – in addition to helping you accomplish more – is that nobody is stopping you from hacking it to suit your own needs and applying it to your life in your unique ways. As you may have probably guessed, my contexts are not @computer, etc., but my time blocks!

What about prioritization?

Many of the best time management techniques fall short in one way; they do not help you prioritize your work. This is actually one of the claimed weaknesses of the GTP system; it provides no help with prioritization. This is not true; GTD is a comprehensive time management framework that provides a detailed decision-making process for deciding how to proceed with a task.

Before engaging, you should indeed make sure you have the right context for the tasks, enough time and energy, and that the tasks have the highest priority.

Anyway, I want to reiterate that prioritization is not about saving time by pruning your to-do list, it’s figuring out what you need to focus on now in order to get things done (see Time management: the elephant in the room). In other words, it’s what should be done first when you have a lot of tasks to complete. Establishing priorities ensures that the right things get done at the right time. Prioritization indeed helps you get clear on your most important activities, ensuring you devote your (best) time and attention to work on them.

As for my not important task (that I don’t want to delete), I keep them for my slump times (see above).

It’s a wrap. And yet there is more to come…

1 Guess what, at the time of this writing, I am sick. It’s been already two months that I have had a nagging (untreated) severe cold. Two months that I cannot afford to take a sick day at work. Deadline after deadline, I barely made it through the end of the year. I had no Holiday break. And, I have started 2023, which doesn’t look very promising in terms of overwork (and stress) improvement, already drained. ^
2 Something I was not allowing myself anymore (see Hunting time-wasters down). ^

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