I’ve wanted to write about time management for awhile but haven’t been sure what I want to say, exactly. I’m still not 100 percent sure what I want to say. All I know is that I feel like I never have enough time or focus to accomplish the goals I set for myself.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
I’ve been working on a third book, and anymore I feel like I operate at a “one step forward, two steps back” pace, like there are simply not enough hours in the day to write what I need to write and have it sound a little more eloquent than gibberish; the book or something else in my life — other projects, obligations, time with my family — falls through the cracks.
When I look over my daily to-do list, it seems like I should be able to get everything on it done, but I can’t. (Isn’t that what time management gurus advise? Make lists? Well, I’m a psychotic list maker, I even make lists for the weekend, and they don’t necessarily work.)
The simple solution would be “shorten my daily to-do list.” But it’s not that. It’s not like I’m pressuring myself to write War and Peace by Wednesday. I know I set reasonable goals for myself. My problem is time management. I don’t use my time as well as I should and it’s been a major source of stress for me these past few months.
I’ve been looking critically at how I use my time at work to see where I can tighten things up. I’m hoping that my observations and (hopeful) remedies can help or inspire anyone else dealing with similar issues.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about myself:
1. I wake up too late. I get out of bed at 7, which, to accomplish what I need to get done each day, is too late. So for the next couple of weeks, I am aiming for a 5 a.m. wake up time, which will give me a few hours to write time before June wakes up.
2. I’m addicted to the Internet. Shocking, I know. And I have a sneaking suspicion millions of others are in the same boat. One of these years the U.S. economy will grind to a halt because we’re spending all our time flicking through Instagram, Twitter and 6pm.com! I’ve also accepted that it’s not enough for me to simply close Safari when it’s time to buckle down and write. Physically removing the cord from the modem is the only way that I can stay off-line. Once it’s unplugged, I don’t have a problem leaving it that way.
3. My “e-breaks” define my work day. Like many self-employed people, I work by myself with no coworkers around. So when I need a break — a hit of socialization — I end up doing it online: visiting favorite blogs, reading the newspaper, perusing new music on iTunes — which is totally normal. The problem is that those mini breaks often extend into 30-40-50 minute breaks, far longer than I’d ever spend socializing with a co-worker in a conventional office since we’d both feel pressured to get back to work after 15 minutes or so. When I’m by myself, there is no such pressure and it’s much easier to lie to myself about what I’m actually doing.
For the next week or so, I’m going to try to take a walk around the block or go out for tea whenever I need a break. You know, come up for air in the real world, not the virtual world? Like in olden times? Because I know that it’s interaction with humans that I crave, not reading up on the Kardashians which always has a way of funneling me back to 6pm.com.
4. I’m not focusing enough on the end point. When working on any long term project (in my case, a book), it’s easy to get bogged down in the enormity of the task, fretting about all that I have to do with no clear end in sight. But it’s so, so, so important to work toward a specific end point. It doesn’t even have to mean the end of the book since that can seem so far off, vague and impossible. It could mean end of a chapter, the end of a page, or, the way it’s been going for me, the end of a sentence. Focusing on “the end” is a reminder there is one!
5. I compare myself to others all the time. We’re always told not to do this because it can lead to diminished self-confidence, the grass is always greener, etc, etc, but I find it impossible not to. In fact, I think comparing yourself to others is part of the human condition; we all secretly (or unsecretly) want to know how well we stack up to the competition. And isn’t a little competition a good thing? Isn’t that what keeps us on our toes and striving to be better?
The problem is when we interpret the success of others as our own failure — Jane Doe’s blog is #1 and mine isn’t, therefore, I am a loser. When those two things are not actually related. Jane Doe’s success does not make me any less successful, it just means I’m spending too much time online again when I really need to buckle down and get back to work.
6. I try to do it all. I don’t know how other writer/bloggers do it, but I find it challenging to write a blog, take on freelance assignments, be a good wife and mom, and write a book simultaneously. It seems like I should be able to do it all, especially when I compare myself (there I go again with the comparison thing) to all those who perform these exact duties seemingly with no problem, while I come up short. This is where comparing can actually be useful: It’s not that they are so much “better” than you (though of course they may be but lets not dwell on that), it’s that they know how to manage their time, delegate tasks and when to let lesser tier obligations slide. Thinking critically about your habits compared to others’ gives you something positive and specific to work toward instead of being stuck in the rut of “I suck.”
I’ve had to accept that it’s time for me to make some hard choices. For the next couple of weeks, I’m putting Rurally Screwed on the back burner until I meet a specific book deadline. I hate to do it because I love the blog and I love my readers, but tough times require tough measures. (I still plan to post….just not as often.)
7. I rarely reward myself for a job well done. Positive reinforcement in the form of little presents can be a very powerful incentive to get things done, yet I always manage to talk myself out of it (“it’s too much money / I should be saving for June’s college / the car needs fixed”). But in the interest of getting over this book hurdle, I’ve decided to buy myself a great gift — as yet undecided — if I can do what needs to be done in two weeks time.
So there you have it: My less than stellar work habits exposed and goals for getting back on track. What do you think? Are you in a similar situation? How do you deal? I’d love to know.