Schedule Playtime

Make playtime sacred like any other meeting in your calendar. Block time out, prevent work from creeping into it and follow through. If you do not keep a calendar, make time for fun and make sure people around you know when you plan to disappear. On the quest for work-life balance, scheduling time for life is a great first step.

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Batch Like-Minded Processes

Every January, my parents do a brilliant thing: they map out the year’s birthdays, buy cards for everyone in a single trip (often armed with coupons to save big bucks), sign & address every card in a single sitting, and slip them into the mail one by one as each birthday approaches. They save dozens of trips to the store (as much as 35 hours per year in round trips!) and finish the project with an annual peace of mind.

It might sound like cheating, but how many people’s birthdays have you missed? When faced with impending birthdays, it’s a lot of work to go to the store every time – the deed rarely gets done! Better to do it in a batch than not at all.

Batching like-minded tasks plays a key role in productivity. While multi-tasking, priorities get disheveled. You only carry out part of a task before moving on to another. By the end of the day, you’ve touched hundreds of things and finished nothing. Better to finish one stack and move on after it’s done. You may not make progress in other areas, but at least you can take pride in crossing something off your list.

The “like-minded” part is important. Managing money uses a different part of your brain than design. It takes a lot of mental effort to switch gears between creativity and cold numbers. The transition between may cost you time and quality. While the financials and design may fall under one project, they are not like-minded processes. Better to do the financials for three different projects at once – even at the expense of crossing a project off your list. You will hone your focus and build mental momentum to get you through similar tasks much quicker. In aggregate, you will save a lot of time and yield better results.

Study your to-do list. Group similar items by tool used, skill needed, energy level, people involved or any other comparison metric. Split tasks into sub-tasks if they need more than one different thought process. Tackle the biggest group pile of like-minded processes first. Then revel in your accomplishments.

Meet the Better Day

Waking up early has advantages. First and foremost, rising early awards you the time to prepare for your day rather than straggle to work or school having dragged yourself out of bed. A leisurely pace in the morning is much healthier and less stressful than a race against truancy. You can make yourself breakfast (the most important meal of the day) and squeeze in some exercise. You have time to get extra work done (like posting to your blog) and enjoy peace & quiet enough to do it. If you get out of the house early, you can beat the rush and save even more time getting to and from. Charged with all of these benefits, you are better-equipped to have a better day.

Down To The Wire

Deadlines exist for a reason. In spite of procrastination and poor time management, they make sure things get done. Sometimes, all it takes is a looming deadline to help you cross the finish line. If it wasn’t for a daily deadline, this blog probably would not exist. I would not have written this post.

If you want to get something done, impose a deadline and have others hold you accountable. Simple.

Life In Thirds

With the traditional 40-hour work week, most people’s lives are roughly split into thirds – work, sleep, and personal time. Work provides for your human needs, sleep keeps you healthy, and personal time enriches the soul. Without question, these thirds must stay in balance to keep you sane.

Each third must not infringe on the others to keep you healthy. Work must not take over and instead provide the means to make the most out of your personal time. Neither work nor personal time should threaten the time you spend taking care of yourself. Moreover, work is necessary to sustain your life and activities. Keep the three in equilibrium and life will be good.

No, you do not have to spend an equal amount of time on each to keep the three in balance. If anything, you should maximize personal, soul-enriching time as much as possible (it often takes a lot more than you realize to truly balance out your work). But you can definitely add up the hours in a week to determine whether your work/life balance is out of whack or not.

Keep your time in check. Keep your life in balance. Juggle the three balls well and you may yet find happiness.

Give It Your All?

I respect people who devote themselves completely to a project or job. Without question, giving it your all usually awards you a competitive edge. But I worry about the limited investment driven people are able to make in other parts of their lives. If you invest 100% of your energy (and time) into a project, what is left for family, friends, or your own health? What about your personal life goals?

On this planet, we only have 23 hours, 57 minutes, and 4.1 seconds in a day. If you spend 18 hours working on your project, when will you see your children? When will you sleep or exercise? And when will you have time to chisel away at your hobby? For those of you who are working for the money, do you have time to spend or even manage the money you do make? If not, what’s the point? What’s the point of working that hard anyway? To do better? If your job is the most important thing in your life, then why let family or anyone else distract you? What’s the point?

I am all for investing yourself in your work. I work very hard myself. But I draw lines and live by rules. I will not let my job, or any project for that matter, take time away from my dreams. And I am actively optimizing my life to make more time with friends, family, travel, and personal projects.

Inventory your “all” and decide where best to map your energy and time.

The Time Management Paradox

Spending your time wisely and time management are two completely different things. All of us want to make the best use of our time. Some people are better at it than others and do so naturally. Spending time wisely can be an intuitive art. But without some system for tracking or assessment, intuitive time spenders really have no idea whether or not they are optimizing their time in the best way possible.

Time management helps time spenders keep track of their time utility. By creating sorting and tracking systems, you can get a really strong insight into the way you live your life.

The ironic paradox? It takes time to manage your time. Setting up spreadsheets, data input, note-taking, categorization, calendars, chronicles, time-sheets, reading, reports, etc. Depending on how accurate you want to be, you might even waste time while “managing your time.” I am guilty of this. I know many people who are.

It will take passive tools – perhaps in our phones, browsers, and cars – to help us better-understand our lives without wasting precious time.