I've not written here about time management and productively very much recently. I'm a pretty busy guy, I work a lot, I live an hour away (minimum) from my social life, and I have a lot of things simmering in various stages. While I might accept the challenge that I'm spreading myself a bit too thin (I'm working on it!) I feel like the largest challenging isn't that my attention is too divided, or even that I don't have enough time to do the things I want to do.
Rather, I think my biggest challenge at the moment is that I'm not particularly good at using very short blocks of time to get things done. The twenty minutes of free time I have in the morning before work, the time after work when I'm too tired of looking at words to write, but not tired enough to go to bed. One of the great things about having lots of projects is that they're all in different stages and require different kinds attention.
As a result, I'm taking the following strategies in an effort to use time a bit more effectively:
1. Stub out projects during binges, fill in the gaps in the interstitial time.
One of the problems with writing in short little bits and pieces throughout the week, is that writing is often a game of momentum, and it's hard to really build up speed and absorb yourself in a project, however big or small in a few moments. In most cases, the hardest thing to do in writing is figure out "Okay, so what do I need to write here." Given this, it's incredibly easy (at least for me) to become enchanted with the successful binge and the ability to bury myself in a long writing session for hours on end; because that tends to work well, I'm prone to just not trying to write in the interstitial moments.
My approach, recently, and one that I need to pay a bit more attention to maintaining, has been to use binges to start projects, to do a lot of free writing and note taking, and then with things mostly sketched out and "stubbed out" (to borrow a term from the wiki world), it's easier to write things during the week.
- Work on keeping the "to do" list more populated.
I suppose this is really an extension of the above, but I sometimes find myself avoiding adding items to my todo list if I'm close to "clearing the decks" (OCD much?) and I sometimes fall out of the habit of really using my todo list as a method for planning my day and week out. Todo lists have three main purposes that I can see: first they help with remembering things that you might otherwise forget. That's not something I struggle with in any major way. The second is to do some organizational work up front so that big and hugely imposing tasks seem much more manageable when you sit down to work. Finally, they should all but moot the question "what should I work on now?"
In any case, a todo list is completely useless when left unmaintained, and underpopulated. There's always something that needs doing, and there's often time to do something. Todo take the thought out of figuring what to do in those spaces, and they can't really do that when they're not kept up to date.
3. Get away from the computer when I've lost the ability to concentrate.
When I'm tired or bored (or both) and don't think I could muster the ability concentrate on a sentence, I rarely muster the courage to get up and do something else. Instead, I usually tab into a web browser and doddle away the evening doing something like refreshing Facebook endlessly, or some-such. While there's nothing wrong with a little bit of harmless perusal of the Internet, it's too easy to get sucked in and then not get other stuff done. I think of this as the "cut your looses strategy." I'm not terribly good at it most of the time, but when it works I'm pleased.
- Read more, particularly when I've "run out of words."
At the end of a day, I sit down on the couch with my laptop, and I find whatever emacs buffer open that I'd been hacking or writing away on in the morning (or the previous evening), and I think "Dear god, I couldn't possibly write anything more," which is a fair feeling: I stare at emacs buffers and hack away on words all day as it is, coming home to do more of this, even if the topics are a bit different, is sometimes difficult. I enjoy writing a bunch and find it to be a very rewarding experience so this isn't always a problem, but when it is, it is.
My goal is to avoid waisting time because I'm bored or tired and using this time to read instead. I tend to find reading to be refreshing and I feel like I don't have enough time to read as it is, so this solves a few problems. I think if we look honestly at our days and our goals, most of us might be able to find a way to get the more things done that we want to get done, with such a strategy.
We'll see how that works.