Timing is everything

I recently read a post by the author Elizabeth Gilbert, describing how she grew up with a mother that would schedule her days into 30 minutes activity slots: piano practice, homework, softball practice etc. As an adult and writer she has taken this element of timing with her; everyday no matter where she is, she sets the timer on her phone and works on her book for 30 minutes.

I got inspired – Inspired to think about how I manage my work, what works and what doesn’t work.

If I’m not conscious of how I work, I tend to do everything at once. Making to-do lists on paper, checking facebook/twitter/instagram on my phone, writing emails on my laptop, listening to music, clicking on links and reading blog posts and making tea/snack/lunch. It’s no wonder I end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out after a couple of hours working like that.

Learnt through trial and error, I’ve started setting up time slots for specific tasks. What it actually does is it gives the mind the required focus to work, and it takes away the pressure of being in a hurry, since the timer will let you know when time is up. You can allow yourself to be fully focused and present with the task that you are working on.

There are four essential ways I time my work during the day:

Make a plan
To work efficiently, stress-free and actually get things done, I start the day by making a prioritized list. Which tasks are must-do, and which are could-do? Which are fast to do and which take longer time? Then I plan the day into smaller time slots.

I set the clock to 30 minutes and start working on one thing at a time. I allow for small interruptions like looking up words in a dictionary. I also make sure, I have a pen and paper next to me where I write down things that pop up in my mind; new ideas, emails I have to write, stuff I have to RSVP, or whatever that is important, but has to wait for later so it doesn’t steal my attention now. Maybe you don’t need 30 minutes for a single task, but what is absolutely key is to do one thing at a time. I work concentrated for 30 minutes, and then I take a 5 minutes break and do another 30 minutes.

Embrace social media
I allow myself to go with the somewhat scatterbrained nature of social media; to browse through updates, click on links that take me to blogs, that take me to new sites, to comment and like, to read a lot in a short time. I gain new knowledge, it sparks inspiration and I cultivate my network. By doing it in a limited amount of time where my only focus is on letting the hungry mind get fed, it doesn’t stress me out as it did when I mixed it with all the other work.

Take breaks
Every two hours I take longer breaks. I stretch, go outside, do the dishes, move, listen – really listen – to a song or eat something. I make sure my body is nourished and I wipe the mental board clean, so I am ready for another time slot of work.

What kind of time management tools work for you?