I’ve had a few people ask me how it is I manage to multi-task between so many different jobs, projects, novels, hobbies, and still get everything done during the day. I’ve started to ask myself that recently, as my husband and I are packing to move into a new house and I just last week started working with another group of fantastic literary people. Oddly enough, the more awesome things I add to my to-do list, the more I actually get done (and the more time I have left over at the end of it all to fit in extra fun stuff).
I realized that this is all far less about being really good at any given project than it is about being really good at time management. I’m not going to lie – it took me a really long time to finally invent my own system for how to get this done in the best way. But I feel like now I have it all pretty down pat, which leaves me so much more room and energy to add extra projects, collaborations, and activities into my day.
These are the three most important things I’ve found to manage my time effectively, three things I try to do every day, no matter what.
1) Wake up and go to bed consistently.
This is really important. Six days out of the week, I’m in bed between 10:00 and 10:30, and am asleep between 11:00 and 11:30. I shut all my devices off, grab a book and some relaxing tea with Kava root to help me sleep, and settle in to read. Most of the time I’m out within half an hour, and I always set my alarm for 6:00 the next morning (sometimes I don’t even have to). Find what works for you, what’s doable and what helps you wake up feeling at least somewhat refreshed in the morning. If you can make a commitment to getting to bed and waking up at the same time for a week, I promise it’ll get a lot easier to stick to that schedule.
2) Make some lists.
No, this might not be completely doable for everybody, but some form of organization helps. Me, I’m a list-maker. If I don’t have it down on a list, I forget that it’s something I have to do. Working independently and from home, I don’t have anybody to keep me on top of my important tasks besides myself. So I have to make sure I don’t forget anything. I make a list every Sunday for that week, including all the things that need to be done throughout the next seven days. Then, first thing every morning I make another list for the day. This one tends to be a lot more specific, but most of the things on this daily list I pull from the weekly list. That way, I can play each day as it comes, which leaves me a lot more room for accommodating life in general when it doesn’t feel like making things easy for me. If I don’t get to something that day, I just move it to the next day’s list the next morning. And really, who doesn’t like the feeling of crossing something out with a black line, dusting off their hands, and forgetting about it completely? My goal is always to cross off everything on my list each day (which rarely happens, warranting a happy dance when I actually manage to do so).
If this seems like way to much (I know I sound remarkably organized and well on the verge of insanity), try making just a weekly or monthly list and sticking it on a wall somewhere where you can easily see it. These lists are two-fold: not only do you have a visual reminder of all the things you need to get done (that can be easily updated), but you also have a clear layout of your goals for any given period of time. These goals are no longer just floating in the background of your mind; writing them down makes them a little more real and, in my opinion, a little more possible.
3) Work in 30-minute increments.
There’s a lot of information out there about the human brain’s capacity to function for only a certain period of time. I’ve seen it explained from anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes. I’ve found that 30 minutes works really well for me, and a lot can be done in that short amount of time. For most of my projects, I set my timer to 30 minutes and don’t do anything else until the chime goes off. I close out of Facebook, get out of my email, and give my full attention to whatever it is I’ve decided to work on. This allows me to get 30 whole minutes of interrupted focus, where nothing else matters and nothing else takes me away. It’s the perfect amount of time for me because it’s short enough that I’m not off the grid for too long, and long enough to really get some good time into said project. And I seem to never get burned out just working for 30 minutes at a time. Then I take a break: do some stretches, step outside for some fresh air, grab some meditation time, or go for a walk.
The other aspect of this is that I mix up my 30-minute increments between different projects. It’s pretty rare that I’ll work on the same thing for multiple “alarms” in a row. Most of the time I work on one project for 30 minutes, take my short break, then go back for another 30 minutes of a completely different project. I have so many things going on that I’ve found this keeps me from getting bored. It even extends to breaking up my day with reading just for fun, doing chores around the house, and answering emails. I just get a lot more done this way, and I get the most out of those 30 minutes as I possibly can.
The only thing I don’t break up into 30 minutes is when I work on my own novels or short stories. This is the only thing where I really get into the zone and don’t want to break that up every 30 minutes. So I give myself an hour. If the alarm goes off and I’m still typing away like crazy, of course I let myself continue. But if I’m feeling tired or sore, wondering where next to take a scene, I’ll take my break. Sometimes just standing up and walking around gets my brain moving again like it couldn’t when I’d been sitting for so long.
These are a lot of new things to incorporate into your day, and sometimes working a 9-5 job, traveling, or having kids gets in the way of being able to stick to a schedule. That’s okay. If you can pick just one of these things and try it out consistently for a day or two, I’m confident you’ll see a positive change in what you can get accomplished during the day.
My days sometimes feel like they’re double a normal day – like I’ve done two days’ worth of work and still have time left over to go out with friends or watch a movie. The most important part, I think, is just to take it one day at a time. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve how I roll through my projects on a day-to-day basis, and I always manage to find something else to add to my daily practices to make them better.
What do you do on a daily basis to help you get through all the projects, work, chores, writing? I’d love to hear more tricks…you can never know too many.