Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Time Management 101

It's been difficult to decide what my first post back was going to be about. There are so many things I have already written about on this blog. However, over the last 4 years, my thoughts and habits about some of them have changed. It may have something to do with how my life has evolved during the few years.

I started this blog back in 2012, while I was in my third year of university. I needed something to distract me from all the studying and projects and papers. I wanted to concentrate on something I enjoyed and was passionate about. At the time that was personal organization. It may be true that I focused on the subject too much, maybe even trying to get others to follow in my steps without realizing. My drawers and wardrobes were neatly folded and separated into categories, my daily routine was sacred, my meal plan and budget were followed precisely and my cleaning schedule was a little obsessive.

Since then things have winded down a little. I am no longer a student but have a full time job, that sometimes involves working extra hours. I no longer live alone (or have my own room for that matter) but share my home and my life with my now husband. I have a cat who leaves her hair on every piece of clothing and furniture I own. It is definitely not easy to be as obsessive with cleaning as I once was. It's harder to control how two people spend their money and it's strange to have to deal with "I don't feel like eating that today" or "I'll just have fried chicken for dinner".

So over the past year and half especially, it's sort of gone downhill. Ever since I started preparing my exam to work in Hospital Pharmacy (which I didn't pass, another story for another day), it all started to spin out of control. We currently don't have meal plans, don't track our budget monthly, don't have a cleaning schedule and my wardrobe is most certainly not folded and categorized. Most days I don't have the energy to think about ironing and folding items of clothing or thinking about what we're going to eat the next day. Luckily, Adrian's at home most of the time and is currently in charge of making lunch and dinner, as well as most of the household chores (including kitty litter).

However, I miss the feeling of having everything in it's place. I miss filling out my budget sheet and checking I have something to save for the next month. I miss knowing exactly what I have on my to do list for the week and my nearest deadlines. I miss my organized self. That is why I'm determined to get back a little bit of that old me. I don't want to go all the way, though. Looking back, I can definitely see I was a little OTT.

So, where to start?
For me I'd definitely say time management is of utmost importance nowadays. Especially at work, I have a never-ending list of to-do's and deadlines I need to keep track of. I've now added going to the gym to my schedule and I participate in the church choir, which requires weekly rehearsals. Luckily for me, Summer is officially here (a little hotter than hoped for - she said while staring at the 40ºC on her phone screen). It always seems like I have more time on my hands when the days are longer. In Winter, it gets dark around 6.30pm and my brain is programmed to switch off once the sun is gone. It makes using the extra 5 hours in a day a lot harder.

I've figured if what I'm looking for is to start up good habits, I should focus on trying to establish them now while I'm still wide awake at 10pm, instead of waiting for the cold darkness to creep around in a couple months time.

In a previous post about time management I wrote something I continue to believe to this day: if you can't organizing yourself, you'll have a hard time organizing your stuff. I definitely find that when I organize my time efficiently and tick things off my to do list, I feel a whole lot more productive and am inclined to continue to "do" things, be that cleaning, cooking, etc.

For me the number 1 tip would be to PRIORITIZE. Keep a master to-do list with everything you have to do. If any of them have a deadline, write it down next to the task. Now start to break it down and take it one day at a time. At the beginning of the day, or as soon as you sit down at your desk if it is work-related, ask yourself: what needs to be finished first? Have a look at your deadlines and organize them from closest to furthest away.

When each task has a deadline, it's pretty easy to prioritize. For example (bearing in mind I work with databases and clinical trials):

- Database 1 --> Deadline 3 September
- Database 2 --> Deadline 14 August
- Abstract 1 --> Deadline 29 July
- Abstract 2 --> Deadline 9 August

The prioritized list would be:
1. Abstract 1
2. Abstract 2
3. Database 2
4. Database 1

If we're talking about home-related to-do list, it may look something like the following:

- Put on a load of laundry
- Clean out kitty litter tray
- Cook lunch
- Call Mum
- Pay Electric bill --> Deadline Tomorrow
- Give back Library books --> Deadline 3 days from now

In this case, deadlines aren't enough to decide what needs to be done first. Plus, it you look at this list, there are a few things you can do to make it more time efficient. For example, let's say you start your day by putting on a load of laundry. While the clothes are in the wash you can clear out the kitty tray (a priority for hygienic reasons). Next, perhaps you can pay the electric bill, since this has the closest deadline and then cook lunch (assuming you actually want to eat that day).

Unfortunately, to-do lists never seem to be this short. I usually have bigger things on my master to-do list such as painting the patio, or buying a wardrobe, or making our yearly album (speaking of which, still haven't done last years...oops). My advice would be to pick 3 things you NEED to get done today and do them. Once you're done you'll feel much more productive and will probably still feel energized enough to keep up the rhythm.

On another note, there are such things as planners. For me, these little books work wonders. If it were for my head, I would never get anything done, at home or at work, because I'd never remember anything. But this is a whole topic for another day that may or may not even include some color-coding. In the meanwhile, maybe you'd like to have a look at the planner I purchased about a year ago (click here to read more).

These few tips are the most important to me when it comes to organizing my time. In the past I may have gone to extra lengths to define my free time and decide what to do with it, but making a list that includes it all and picking 3 to do every day make it a lot more manageable.

I hope you enjoyed this intense first post back and hope to see you around soon. Until then, maybe you'd like to scribble a quick comment about how you organize you time in the comment section below! Thanks for stopping by!


[Note: I posted a previous post about time management back in 2012, though it's a little OTT for me at the moment. However, if you want to check it out you can read more here.]

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