I am a woman in a domestic relationship, and thus, no matter how enlightened my partner is and aspires to be, no matter how much my mom flat out refused to cook, clean, or buy my brother and I gendered toys as children, I am still affected by cultural expectations ambient in our environment. This means that while both of us work from home most days, I feel the burden of needing to shop, cook and tidy up most of the time. We discuss this. He tells me I can delegate, I can ask. I think that needing to delegate often will be seen as me being “not in control” by him subtly. We discuss why I would feel that way. We’re a two person cultural panel-cum-assignment-taskforce.
I used to be in a relationship where we “understood” each other and never discussed anything but fun things. It worked great until we grew up. I prefer this way.
While working for yourself is pleasant, being your own project manager, sales team, marketing team, HR department (what training should I do next?), head of strategy & investments, and own legal team is draining. I’m also the webmistress of my boyfriends Political Economics blog and facebook page (he’s slowly becoming a big deal) and in-house IT person. I’m planning a wedding, have a parrot who — like all parrots— needs a lot of attention to be emotionally healthy and happy, am always training for the next race and have a project on the side which tends to get ignored on weeks like this week when the wedding website has problems with translating widget content.
My time is very full.
Distractions have to go if I ever want to deliver assignments, maintain basic hygiene standards and eat one square meal a day.
But there is a difference between being focused and being effective. Effectiveness is when you focus on worthwhile things and I’ll discuss that at the bottom.
How I get Shit Done
- Pomodoro all the things. You know how when you hear there are people on the way over you run around cleaning for ten minutes then wonder why your place never looks this tidy normally? That’s the kind of result setting a 20 minute timer gives you. Having a timer on means I have to prioritise: unload & reload dishwasher, or put the plates by the sink to be cleaned before doing dinner? Change the bird’s cage liner, or just vacuum around the cage? Do the floors NEED cleaning or just spot vacuuming/wiping? By the timer runs out, the place looks respectable, but I didn’t get sucked into it. I also Pomodoro time personal admin (emails to my tax guy, dealings with Oxfordshire country council, or my letting agency in the UK), which is by far the thing I hate doing the most. knowing I’ll only spend 25 minutes doing something makes it seems less daunting, and I reply to emails faster and worry less about the wording. It ends, and if I need more time, I will get back to it another day or in another session.
- Planning the week. After I’m done with the morning swipe and have my coffee, I check my planner. This is the wireframe for my week where I keep workouts, deadlines, and day related tasks or appointments as well as plan tasks around energy intensive social obligations so I’m not drained or overwhelmed on the day. The most important thing about this system is that I only have the things I need to do this week on there. Some things might be day specific, but I like to leave tasks as for the week. This gives me a little bit of time to get everything done without a panic if I don’t get something done on a particular day. The reason paper works better for me is because I can’t “cheat” with it and perpetually move tasks to the next day, like I do with digital to do lists.It’s either checked off, or it’s not. Also, it doesn’t annoy me with popups and alerts, which distract me from what I’m doing in the moment. For tasks that have multiple steps associated with them (as most of my digital work does, as well as wedding planning) it’s easier to break those next actions down and space and schedule them out in trello.
- Scrum Points for Spoonies: Inside trello, I use an extension that allows scrum points to be added to cards, although as a solo worker, I don’t use scrum. Scrum points are an estimation of effort and that helps me be realistic about how much I can get done in a day as a spoonie. Above 21 points in a day is a sign I’ve taken on too much..
- Maintain regular work hours: blocking off my time -as much as possible- really helps me focus. Also, I know my relaxation time is after 8, and that I have time to workout, do the evening tidyup, and run whatever errands I need and chillax thanks to my planning steps above.
- Capture Inspiration While doing stuff, other ideas will pop into my head that are not related to the task at hand. I have one page in my planner for incoming ideas I want to expand one. If the idea is a good one, it can get expanded on later and added as a project in my queue. But capturing it allows me to get back to what I’m doing without spending energy trying to “hold that thought”.
- Block distractions. As I said about paper planners, notifications are distractions. In my mac I switch off as many of these as possible (even slack) and only have my time logging tool reminding me to log my billable time. I’m not a sysadmin, so I can check alerts on my breaks. I also use RescueTime, which only allows me to check certain sites on Pomodoro breaks until 8pm. The best thing about Rescue Time is that it tracks your behaviour on mobile as well as computer and scores you daily on productivity.
- Avoid email. Email is a time sinkhole. There’s always something interesting to check out, but the time to do that not now. Sending emails happens after work is done, in the personal admin pomodoro.
- Hide the taskbar and app-launcher.Yes, I’m serious about blocking distractions, and the taskbar and app-launcher are just reminders of OTHER things I could do or should pay attention to, like edit that youtube video for my channel with only one video on it, or that blog post on how people make decisions for my work blog. The thing is, I can’t do anything effectively with my mind of something else. The best thing I can do is focus on the task at hand and leave others for after whatever I’m working on is done.
- The ADHD buster: I have a column in trello called “doing” which may only have one card at any given time. I have a goldfish memory, and if anything interrupts me (answering the door for a delivery), it takes me a while to remember what I’m supposed to be doing, especially with all those other lovely ideas popping up all the time. Referring to the “doing now” column in trello stops me opening another tab or getting lost in a new tangential idea and makes me want to push that card into the “done” column.
There is one sneaky thing I’m not telling you, though.
It’s really easy to stay busy.
Especially if — like me — you equate being busy with being useful. Yes, the opportunities for being busy are everywhere.
Being effective is hard.
It’s important to assess each would-be project in terms of positive impact on my life, or on others. To that end, I have a page in my planner about areas of responsibility: (work, house, health, business, partner, parrot, etc.) and another page for my values. There are just there for me to review, not to link to anything.
Every app I’ve tried that links these areas to projects and those project to tasks takes more time to manage than is worthwhile.
It’s up to me to make sure that my projects -whether building a raspberry pi powered amazon echo*, or baking an actual raspberry pie- align with those areas of responsibility and those values.
Otherwise, it’s not worth my time.
What about you? How do you manage your time? Especially for the energy or health challenged, I’d love to hear your tips!
*Designing pleasant voice interactions for products is an area of responsibility in my work and also ties with my values of making the interface as out of the way as possible. If I could, you would blink twice and think of pizza and it would arrive.