Thoughts on time management
We’ve been talking a bit lately about how we could optimize our timetables to make ourselves more productive. (Igor will have more on this soon.) Personally, over the last few weeks, with all the changes and the holidays and the seemingly inevitable mental lull that tends to accompany the last warm days of the year, I’ve been battling some really insidious bouts of mind-wandering. XKCD depicted this quite well:
As far as I can tell, weather and mood aside, productivity comes down to three factors: focus, planning and motivation.
I had a schoolteacher who used to tell us, when doing essay tests, that our foremost goal should be to write continuously for the hour and a half or so that we had. To never put down the pencil, whether or not we had a plan. This, she said, would help us to maintain focus, and not to be engulfed by the panic or confusion that might result from taking a thinking break. Her advice still springs to mind whenever I have to write or do something quickly.
Now, this strategy, clearly, cannot be extrapolated to cover work in terms of days, weeks or months, since it would be the perfect formula for burnout. However, it works very well for tasks that take a couple of hours. This is what I’m finding myself doing now: shutting out the world for a couple hours at a time with a small, achievable goal in mind, and picking away at it until there’s enough material to refine. Time pressure really helps with this.
The most troublesome things are the little tasks that are quick and easy to accomplish, because they worm their way into the time you’ve set for your bigger tasks. These need to be isolated so that they don’t gobble time and sneakily put the brakes on longer-term projects.
I try to keep the task at hand covering my full screen, and minimize and close any windows that might remind me of other things I need to be doing at some point. Out of sight, out of mind. I also kind of wish I could put a big title at the top of my desktop that reminds me what I should be working on, should I deviate from the plan. Will have to look into this.
Motivation can be broken down into hundreds of factors on its own, but here are some key things I’m finding/have been taught:
- Having the foundation of a project done is motivation in itself, so it helps to get the basics done as quickly as possible.
- Confusion or convoluted overthinking is probably my main cause of distraction. Addressing these as soon as possible, using available colleagues or friends as sounding boards, help me to see the goal more clearly again. Should nobody be available, starting afresh can often be more efficient than wading through the confusing mess of thoughts you’ve made for yourself.
- Identify the goal in completely unquestionable detail before starting. Otherwise things get hairy. And if the goal is the wrong one, going about it this way will make that clear much sooner.
Igor is at PICNIC in Amsterdam today and tomorrow. Give him a shout if you’d like to meet up for a coffee.
Finally, we recently announced that we’re in the market for a new office. Ping us if anything comes to mind.