Time management – getting it done and staying sane

256328_stopwatch_1I like being productive. The best days are ones where I feel like I have ‘achieved something’. If I’m feeling down, the number one pick-me-up is to get something done. It’s a control thing probably.

When I was in the workforce, I became obsessed with the study of time management. If there is a book written on the subject, then I’ve probably read it (and made notes).

Now full time with infant and COO of our household, the time management skills that I used at work are even more useful now.

Previously I wrote about having a tidy house without effort – well that was pre-baby, pre-sleep deprived days. Now that I have less time, I find that I get more done. I think because I have less excuses to be lazy (and I prioritise more). These are some of the things that I do (and am trying to implement) to get through the thousand things that each day brings.

Plan ahead

Planning what you need to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month allows you to:

  • prioritise tasks for today, and
  • to start those tasks that take time well before they are due.

A diary or calendar is generally the planning tool of choice, but I prefer lists and schedules. Most lists are written out on scrap pieces of paper and schedules are in excel. I am planning to run a ‘tighter ship’ in a couple of months time as I plan on going back to doing a bit of teaching.

Steven Covey’s time management model is useful to keep in mind when planning ahead. You ideally want to spend most of your time doing things that are important but not urgent before they become urgent. This is where planning is important.


Urgent and Important

Sometimes it seems like our whole day is filled with urgent and important tasks. Feeding a crying baby is my most urgent and important task. And when he’s asleep, it is preparing bottles for the next feed, however, if I plan ahead (and don’t procrastinate) the task of preparing bottles becomes important but not urgent.

Important but not urgent

These are the tasks that you want to spend the most time on but are often the ones that don’t get done at all. These are the tasks with the biggest rewards. Things like career planning or business planning or playing with the kids or just having down time for yourself.

Like many, this is the area that I have to work on. I’m pretty good at the other areas (just don’t ask me how my eBook is going, for example!)

Urgent but not important

There are always interruptions and urgent tasks that need doing that distract you from things that are important. Things like emails and phone calls. These are the tasks that you want to delegate if you can.

I’m going to put TV under the urgent but not important heading. Not because TV needs to be watched, but because it tends to command attention, even if we have no intention of watching it. Ever walked into a room with a TV on and found yourself sitting on the couch (tea towel still in hand) wondering where the last two hours went? No, neither have I ;).

Not urgent and not important

It’s amazing how much time we can spend on this kind of stuff. Not urgent and not important tasks are the things that we do to procrastinate (as opposed to things we do for relaxation, which is important). Like watching muscular men with accents teach massage on YouTube…

…(1 hour later) I need to work on household planning (and creating a new routine). We menu plan still, but don’t ask when was the last time the vacuuming got done. I’m currently reading up on household management my favourite ‘mummy website’ at the moment (Simple Mom) for tips on:

for that tighter ship I envision.

As a caveat, it is often good to get quick and easy tasks over and done with straight away, like putting the junk mail straight in the bin, rather than letting it pile up for later.

Organise your space and your stuff

A couple of days before bub was born, I really wanted to start a new (and quick) sewing project that had been on the list for a while. The thing was that before I could start cutting, I had to iron the fabric. Before I ironed, I had to clear away the ironing board. Before I cleared away the ironing board, I had to sort through and file all the paperwork stacked on it. Before I filed the paperwork, I had to action (pay bills etc) it. Before I actioned the paperwork, I had to clear away past sewing projects of my desk and unbury the laptop…and so on. You get the picture. Everything was a disorganised shemozzle and the sewing never got done.

To complete tasks efficiently, declutter your work space / home and find a place for everything (and put everything in it’s place). Organise your space so that work flows easily, rather than having to run here and there to the tools you need to get things done. Do a quick tidy at the end of each day to restore order and return things to their place.

Write lists

I’m a list person. A good brain dump each day means that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to do something and I can focus on other things. Also there is nothing like the satisfaction of striking out violently crossing something off your list. On bad days, where the world seems to get on top of me, I have been know to write things on my list such as “clean teeth” and “eat breakfast” and “watch Dr Phil.” Sometimes you just need to feel like you accomplished something for a boost of feel good.

Do the most important things first

If you’re anything like me, your list will be huge. And hardly anything on it will get done. Decide what task/tasks (max 3) are the most important and get these done first. Then if the day goes to the crows, at least the most important things will have been completed and you can call the day a success.

For long term success, make sure at least one of these tasks comes from the important but not urgent category.

Just do it…

My biggest enemy against productivity isn’t time, it’s lack of motivation. Who wants to the write that memo / do the ironing when there is some inane clip on YouTube that someone has just emailed you?

I have found that since bub has come along and I have way less time to do things yet I get a lot more things done. Because I have to. (I’m writing this at night after a long day with a restless baby). This is the first time in my life that I’ve ‘pushed through’ to do things that I don’t want to. It makes for a satisfying day.

…The Eight Minute Rule

In March’s newsletter, I linked to an article by How to Get a Grip about the eight minute rule. Basically, if you have a lot of things that need doing and it is stressing you out, take eight minutes and do one or more of those tasks that you’ve been putting off.

Funnily enough, the bottle steriliser we have takes exactly eight minutes to do its thing. Eight minutes is a really long time when you’re waiting. And it’s amazing how much you can accomplish in eight minutes. The washing up and cleaning the kitchen has never taken me longer than eight minutes. I can usually even hang out a load of washing in that time too. It’s a long time.

Alternatively, if there is work to be done and you have no motivation, set a timer and make a bargain to do focused work for 8, 10, 30, 60 minutes. Then you can do something that you want to do. Quite often I find that I get into the task and work beyond the buzzer.

Let it go

So our downstairs toilet hasn’t been cleaned in over three months. So it looks like we are breeding a new life form in the toilet bowl. So it has been sealed off as a biochemical hazard. So we bustle visitors upstairs to the ‘more recently’ cleaned loo.

Not everything has to be perfect, or even decent. If it’s not important, let it go.

And if all else fails…

If you’re having serious trouble keeping on top of the housework, Hooked on Houses give some great advice on how to make your house look magazine perfect in 8 easy steps.



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