The new school year brought a fixed schedule back into my life. After a summer of disorder, of chasing after kids, squeezing in my work, and totally failing to finish any personal projects, I knew something needed to change. I needed better time management.
In the interest of protecting my ability to concentrate on anything, I started researching time management techniques and applying them slowly but systematically into my life. The new school year seemed like the perfect time to make these changes—a new start for the kids, and a fresh outlook for me.
Paper or Device?
In school and at early jobs, I swore by my planner. It worked for me and lived in my bag. But the older I get and the more document drafts I’ve lost, the less I like depending on paper systems.
I want something that is with me on whatever device I have in front of me. I want to update my grocery list in front of the pantry and then access it on my phone at the grocery store. If I’m out-of-town, let me be free of the burden of yet another notebook, yet another item I need to remember to pack and then keep safe. I do sometimes like to use paper, but then I input the contents to an electronic document. The search feature of a computer is far superior to turning pages of my handwritten notes.
A few years ago, a friend lent me “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen. The biggest takeaway for me was to use systems that you trust so you don’t keep duplicate information in multiple places.
I started using reminders on my phone and using that as my go-to space for documenting things that need to be done on a deadline. So filing monthly sales tax, ordering annual holiday cards, and scheduling a mani-pedi all get repeating reminders. I also started using an electronic calendar for everything I could. I don’t even accept those reminder cards at the doctor’s office anymore—the appointment gets entered directly into my phone along with travel and alarms before I leave.
Some people rave about bullet journals. I like the idea in theory, but when I tried it, the system didn’t work for me. I despise rewriting tasks, which seems to be the hinge of effective BuJo. Making spreads was fun, but honestly, it felt like I was redoing work that already existed. I mean, the calendar app on any of my devices shows that information in broad or granular detail. I put all personal and professional appointments, kids’ activities, and plans for travel or friends, on my calendar. I trust my calendar, and if something isn’t on there, I don’t know about it. And it dings at me to keep me on time. Paper just doesn’t do that!
Yes, I know it’s not ground-breaking. I watched a series of videos on time-blocking. Some of these folks went really wild on the number of electronic calendars they use for time-blocking, but I’m just not there yet. I need a place for weekly stuff that I need to do and need accountability for. I added two calendars, one for bottlenecks and one for goals. I may still collapse those two into a single calendar.
So far, I’ve put in my workout plan (that I need to shift to the time I actually do it), my social media responsibilities, and my book editing time (which is too late in the day to be effective). I need to add blogging to the schedule, since this year has been positively abysmal for my regular posts. As a family, we also need a better meal-planning/grocery shopping strategy. But seeing the blocks of time there and getting reminders to get the kids working on their homework have definitely helped me feel in-control of my day-to-day.
What I really needed to understand was that time-blocking doesn’t mean filling up every block. The spontaneity of real life demands flexibility in my schedule. So just having a few blocks every day has nudged me in the right direction.
Two features of bullet journals that I like but haven’t managed to replicate are habit trackers and goals. I just found a habit tracking app, so let’s see if I get those middle splits by the end of the year.
Where to go from here
I need to do more work around documenting and tracking my goals. While I want to write more, I haven’t tracked or utilized my time seriously enough to move beyond my dream-self. I also have a series of personal projects that require some serious time management to get them done on schedule. Time-blocking has gotten my fitness goals back on track—while I’m in the habit of regular workouts, I’m now exercising a little longer and with systematically greater variety.
I’m also looking at planner pages in One Note to write on and see if that gives me a better grasp of my goals while still giving me the cross-device access that I value. The paper-texture screen protector for my tablet has definitely helped my handwriting look more recognizable on screen, so if you’re struggling with writing on your iPad, you could give it a try.
The good thing is that I feel like I have a plan now. The anxious feeling weighing me down all summer has started to lift. I know where I need to improve my time management, and I have a few more systems in place that I trust and utilize. I’ve found some channels with great, accessible, realistic content, so I’ve been watching and learning first thing almost every day.