Focus on the important stuff

emailSelf-employment is proving to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated, and I don’t mean in terms of contracted work. Rather, with both physical and temporal boundaries between home and work smudged, I’ve been thinking of time as a continuum. Bad idea. Without a sense of beginnings or ends, I hit the bed feeling frustrated and unproductive.

Being deadline driven, I have no problem completing paid work on time. It’s managing the other pieces that had me stumped. I felt overcommitted and overwhelmed. This wasn’t what I’d signed up for when I walked away from my job. In fact, it was largely the reason why I walked away.

My “duh” moment came when I realized that a variation of what worked in the office, works at home: efficient time management. Told you it was a no-brainer. But, it’s taken me 10 weeks to begin adjusting to my new reality and find my rhythm. Here’s what helped:

  1. Make a weekly to-do list: I get tremendous satisfaction from marking through a completed item. I look at my week – Monday through Sunday – and make my to-do list for each day. As commitments comes in for that or future weeks, I slot them or say no (yes, saying no is an option). Sometimes, I move things around, depending on their importance (see below), but only items I’m committed to doing go on the list.
  2. Prioritize: This is pretty self-evident. Some items end up taking longer than expected. That means the to-dos on the bottom of the list either get bumped to the next day (where they gain a higher priority) or I work later to complete them.
  3. Limit email: Email is a giant time suck that can blow up the best-planned day. I check email two or three times, spaced evenly during the day. I have separate emails for work and personal correspondence, and check work email only between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. I also check personal email once in the evening. I delete junk email, dash off a response to those that can be handled quickly, and flag ones that need a more complex answer to address later. Checking email on my smart phone is quick and decreases the urge to respond to everything immediately.
  4. Bundle like items: I block time to handle all those items that are necessary, but don’t need to be addressed immediately. This keeps me from stopping and starting multiple times throughout the day. I go back to the flagged emails, group the volunteer-related to-dos, and deal with other miscellaneous commitments.
  5. Remember what’s important: I don’t know if I’ll have another 40 years or 40 hours, but I want that time to count. Whatever else is on my to-do list, I have made being with family and friends, getting exercise, making a difference, having some fun and writing my top priorities – every week.
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6 Responses to Focus on the important stuff

  1. winterbayne says:

    no time to read the post right now, will come back later…I’ve got e-mail to reply to 😛 😉

  2. ginachoward says:

    Based on the responses I’ve gotten, I think a lot of people are in the same boat. Writing the post was a way to remind myself do what I need to in order to be productive. I’ve gotten two additional commitments in for this week, and my writing is getting pushed down my priority list. However, I’m determined not to let that happen.

  3. CHRIS MCLEOD says:

    Having a morning ritual that helps prepare me mentally for work is a strategy that works…and setting the timer on my cell phone for “deep dives” or periods of focus.

    • ginachoward says:

      My difficulty is mentally shifting gears from paid work to volunteer work to creative writing. Each requires intense, but extremely different types of concentration. I’ve found that doing something physical betweem them helps me transition my thought process. However, without compartmentalizing each, my day is a mess!

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