Time Management

Today, I presented at an event on time management. It was a pretty relaxed event, so we were able to have some good conversations. I’m posting about it for two reasons:

1) To suggest that you pretend that you’re going to give a presentation on time management and go through all the motions of preparing for it. The meta-cognition and reflection that is required can be incredibly productive for- you guessed it- your own time management. Thinking about my own habits and strategies helped me identify my strengths, weaknesses, and work habits. Having that more thorough understanding of myself is helping me develop better strategies.

2) To share my strategies with you. I humbly acknowledge that I am no expert, but I’ve made it to the fourth year of a Ph.D. program after spending six other years in post-secondary education and also working other jobs, managing relationships, trying to keep myself sane while reading for list exams, etc. The way I see it is that we’re all valuable resources existing all around each other but rarely sharing our experiences, strategies, and advice with others, and since I’ve recently gained a deep appreciation for collaboration and mentorship, I’ll share my strategies and issues below:

  1. Develop a positive routine. Routines can be very useful, but I’ve also allowed myself to fall into counterproductive routines. Make sure your routine maximizes efficiency.
  2. Recognize that part of efficiency is down-time / alone time / self-care time. Learn that you deserve breaks and you deserve sanity.
  3. Still, not all breaks need to be unproductive. Sometimes, I feel so burned out from writing all day that I need to quit. But instead of quitting outright, I pick up a book, which then feels enjoyable compared to writing. Or, quit reading and pick up the pen. (or tablet/keyboard/laptop/microphone/etc.)
  4. Mens sana in corpore sano. This is a major part of my perspective. It’s Latin for, “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” Also, if you didn’t know, the athletic shoe brand, Asics, stands for this phrase (slightly different, but same meaning: anima sana in corpore sano). When I’m exercising and healthy, I have better energy and a much more powerful mind, so I can work better for longer.
  5. Be accountable: set yourself written goals- for the day, for the week, for the semester, for the year. Little feels better than crossing a task off a list! Sometimes it helps to set a goal that you must meet but also won’t go beyond. Keep yourself from burning out. And consider keeping a daily journal of what you’ve gotten done each day. Today, a faculty member mentioned the strategy of keeping track of all your day’s work on Toggl in order to visually understand where, when, and on what you are most or least productive.
  6. Be willing to put in the hours. For me, this becomes a problem every now then. But it hasn’t in a long time, probably because I now force myself to come into my office 5-6 days per week and also because I stay busy. It’s easy to not do much work when there isn’t much work pressing you to be done.
  7. Organize (and limit) your time. I noticed a while back that I put way too much time into teaching, and it was hindering my personal work’s progress- it’s easy to get carried away or to use lesson planning as procrastination. Now, I only work on teaching material on teaching days, and I wait until after dinner to answer most emails. Limiting the amount of time I put into lesson plans has been the single biggest breakthrough for me.
  8. Disconnect. Distance yourself from your social media. I deactivated my Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat 367 days ago, and I’ve been happy with decision ever since. If you’re not feeling that extreme, try downloading the Chrome extension, “Stay focused,” which limits the amount of time you can spend on certain websites. Try turning your phone on airplane mode, turning it face-down, and putting it out of your reach and/or line of sight. If I can see a distraction, I’m thinking about that distraction.
  9. Blackout. Do you think I’m crazy yet? I also put taped brown paper over my office door window so that the light that normally permeates through doesn’t invite other bored/procrastinating friends and colleagues from stopping by and shooting the breeze. Now, it looks like my lights are always off and there’s nobody home!
  10. Manage Sounds. My office is right next to two of my building’s major doorways, which means a lot of noise distractions. I keep a pair of industrial hearing protector “ear muffs” at my desk for when the foot traffic is especially bad. I also recently discovered that I can extend my productivity by a few hours if I turn on soothing, quiet, instrumental background music. Looking for recommendations? Pandora’s “Classical Guitar Radio,” “Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky,” “Native Flute Ensemble Radio” stations, or a nice playlist of Jackie Gleason’s orchestra, Celtic tunes, traditional Chinese folk music, or Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Find whatever sounds work best for you!
  11. Stop writing before you run out of ideas or become exhausted. Write down those ideas so that, when you begin again tomorrow, you have momentum already and don’t feel like you’re running (or slowly crawling) uphill.

I think that’s it for now. Now, it’s back to work for me!

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