Managing my time well

One of the most challenging and recurring things I do know of is the proper management of my time. I am pretty much an achiever but the procrastination demon is always lurking. Everybody faces it. That's how you can cope that will make you successful or not.

Back to the paper calendar

First of all, one thing I learned is to get rid of all electronic time management devices and use a plain old paper based A5 Filofax to keep track of my own appointments and time allocations. This provides me with the following benefits:
  • better feel for how much time there is in the day/week/month/year. You just don't get that with electronic calendars.
  • information is entered fast (by the time you get the appointment recorded in your e-gizmo, I have already moved on since quite a stretch).
  • rearrangement can be done easily (some arrows here and there).
  • one single place to record. Since I usually work with several clients at once and have my own projects running, I couldn't possibly manage all the electronic calendars there are around.
  • best of all, I am the master of my own time. I do not have to explain why I am not available that day, that's my business.

Keeping track of projects online

As much as I love keeping track of my own time slots by hand in my Filofax, this is no way to manage projects in the information age. So, I use collaborative software to put everybody on the same page. I have used quite a few of them, ranging from simple to complex. As a conclusion: using simple tools work when you deal with efficient and smart people. I do use ProjectPier as my single tool for conducting all projects I run. It's a kind of poor man's Basecamp. But mere mortals can use it. And they are up in minutes. Not so with other tools. The key is to layout milestones well and progress towards achieving them. One secret of managing time well is to be goal-driven and not task-centric. That way, you do not mistake the forest for the trees. Obviously, if the project has a software development component, I'll work with whatever makes sense. Issue tracker (like Jira for example), Wiki, Build tool, you name it. But most of the time, what matters is to keep the ship headed in the right direction, especially now that it is possible to outsource a lot of the software implementation to an external partner.

Knowing what's important for me

I don't know if you noticed this. But every time I do have something really hard to do, I start to think to all kind of other things that I would rather do. Cleaning a drawer, sorting documents, paying bills, ending some game, catching up on TV and the like. That's the part that would like to avoid the unpleasant work. There is another part tough: the part that wants to achieve. Then starts a kind of fight between the short-term centric side of me against the medium/long--term centric part of me. To deal with them, there is not other way to keep some semblance of balance in my life: if I always give way to the short-term centered part, I'll end up frustrated not having achieved anything of value. On the other side, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So, here comes the time to decide what's important for me. What's important is to feel that I've contributed something to the progress of the projects I am in. This ranges from family to business. And the short term doesn't cut it for that. There is just no other choice than to go for the important things. And when they are done, treat the short-term centric part of me as well as I can.

Not letting clutter accumulate

Little critters have the bad habit of banding together and ending up looking like the Mount Everest to tackle. So, I do conduct regular critter-killing sessions. We call the hackathons around here. We do have kitchen-hackatons, paperwork-hackatons, you name it. Once the concept is clear, it provides alignment and a clear focus. On the same vein, never touch a paper to put it back in a pile. Shuffling piles around (or files for that matter) is an utter waste of time. Either deal with the paper or do not touch it at all.

Avoid scheduling too much for a day

Time flies fast. I have never been able to tackle more than 3 significant business things and 3 significant private things on a given day. Basic scheduling goes like this: I take a business card and on its back I write down 3 things to do for the day on the business side, and 3 things to do for the private side. Not that I will achieve all of them, but this gives focus to the day. I'll not be swayed in another direction.

No overtime

Try to stick to an no overtime schedule. If you don't, you'll always think that you can make up the time you spent doing other stuff after hours. Not only will it not work since you'll be more tired (and over time, this is just an unsustainable practice) but it will make you more and more feeling like you are chained to your desk like a slave. Work to live, do not live to work. You'll also need enough rest to stay motivated and with a clear mind.

Every quarter, reflect on where the ship should be heading next

This has become a routine for me. I do have a list with a bunch of questions helping me assess the current situation, and envisioning the next trip for the upcoming quarter. It really helps staying on course and reinventing myself.

Plan holidays ahead of time and stick to the plan

One key thing that helps in keeping time managed well is to have holidays planned ahead of time. Not planning the location and so on, but putting blocks of weeks as holidays and swearing not to work during them. That's hard to do at first but you'll come back eager to achieve and refreshed.

Parting words

I've been working solo for more than 10 years now. When I began I had a grueling schedule and while it got the business off the ground, it was simply unsustainable. It could have worked otherwise had I known my priorities a bit better. I was making money of course, but without free time to enjoy it, it was quite dry. As someone who took no single day of vacation for 3 years straight, ended up burned out, even in the hospital due to hardware breaking, I can tell you that I've now learned my lesson. The pace is speeding up in the business world, the only way to stay sane is to focus on what really matters. It's either that, or be condemned to run around until you drop dead.