For pretty much the whole of June, I’ve been sporadically working on a post about how I keep myself organised, in response to Rachel’s post on the topic. It’s ended up incredibly long, so I’ve decided to split it into three posts: one on principles; one on how I use technology; and one on my analogue systems.
This post is about the principles that underpin how I organise my time and to dos.
Time and task management approaches
I use bullet journalling approaches to managing my paper notebooks (more in a later post).
I also apply some of the basic GTD principles in a pretty lightweight way.
- I use GTD principles for processing actions, but all of my actions go onto a single list – or onto a day in my bullet journal – rather than onto separate context-specific lists.
- I use a lightweight version of the ‘someday/maybe’ approach to getting ideas down for later by using an EverNote notebook to record ideas I don’t want to lose track of.
- I do a simplified weekly review, which is based around the process of migrating items in my bullet journal and organising my calendar for the coming week.
- I try to operate with my version of an empty inbox, which is 20 to 50 items. I don’t know why, but I just cannot get my inbox under that. This is is something I’d like to change.
Over the years I’ve found that if I use a full implementation of GTD, I spend a lot of time managing my system. It becomes a chore and a distraction.
The right balance of working at home and on campus
I work at home quite a lot. The right balance for me in terms of managing my workload and minimising commute time is to have three days at home each week. That doesn’t always happen, but if I have any less than two days at home in a given week I start to fall behind on everything. That’s because I’m usually on campus for a reason – to meet with people or to teach – and my time is therefore fragmented. I also spend a lot of time in incidental conversations when I’m on campus, and I lose about three hours a day to commuting.
It’s also important to me to have enough time on campus. After three days at home in a row, I am desperate for some contact with other people and I really, really need to get out of the house.
Meeting free Mondays
This year I’ve been having meeting free Mondays. The idea is that I’ll spend Mondays at home and won’t have any Skype meetings. I haven’t managed to preserve them every week, but most weeks my Mondays have been mostly meeting free. My intention was to spend Mondays on research but the reality is I used them for preparing learning resources and shooting teaching videos. Even though I didn’t use the time for what I intended, having that day up my sleeve made a huge difference to my teaching experience this semester. Next semester I’ll be teaching Mondays, both day and night, so I need to find another meeting free day. It will probably be Tuesday.
My biggest struggle in terms of workload management is carving out time to work uninterrupted, which is pretty essential for research and writing. I do a fair bit of diary wrangling to consolidate a majority of my meetings into two or three days a week.
Maintaining an up to date calendar
My work Outlook calendar is always up to date and always a true reflection of where I am and what I’m doing. I’m going to cover this in more detail in my post on the tech parts of my system, but in a nutshell, having an up to date calendar is a critical part of my system.
Realistic planning for task management
There’s nothing worse than getting to Friday and realising you’re still working off Monday’s to do list. I try really hard to be realistic with my daily task management. In a perfect world I wouldn’t schedule more than one big task or three smaller ones on any day. In reality, I blow that out of the water fairly often, but over-scheduling is really a killer.
I had a really critical realisation recently about the way I schedule my days and my workflows: I’m kidding myself if I think I’m going to get anything done on meeting days. When I’m on campus, I generally have meetings all day and any in between time gets absorbed in hallway conversations. I no longer schedule tasks for those days.
To avoid over scheduling my days, I compile a running to do list for the week, in addition to planning to tackle individual tasks on specific days. I try to get through the whole list in the week but that rarely happens. I reassess and migrate anything that’s still important on a Sunday when I set myself up for the coming week.
So that’s it for the basic principles. I’ll be back tomorrow with an overview of the techy parts of my approach to managing my time.