One of my biggest goals for the year involves time management. Specifically, being better at it.
My problem isn’t exactly low productivity, though I’m sure I could stand to tighten a few bolts in that department as well. One of the biggest pushes toward getting this figured out is actually to enjoy my time off more.
Because being self-employed sort of destroys any notion of time off.
It’s a weird sort of contradiction actually, because technically I live in my office and technically I am not employed. Not exactly good news for someonewho already has some hang ups with perfectionism and anxiety….
But, here’s the thing: I need breaks, and I think everybody deserves breaks. The problem is that when you don’t schedule and prioritize breaks you still end up taking them—you just take them in stupid ways.
Ergo my habit of checking Facebook fifteen times per day. You think I’m exaggerating. Ha. NOPE.
Not, I suppose, that there’s any automatic ill to checking Facebook, but here’s the rub: I don’t actually like checking Facebook all that much. I like to see pictures and skim the occasional update (which can be done by checking once every couple of days), but my Facebook addiction is pretty much serving the same function as any other addiction: it helps me to feel marginally better while distracting me from the real problem.
My real problem—which, of course, may not be your problem at all—is that I’m anxious about being productive. My subconscious means well but ultimately thinks that the best way to ensure productivity is to feed my insecurity emotions, reminding me that I’m not getting anything done, and I need to really buckle down, and I’d better not leave my desk until those 2,000 words are finito.
When I can’t take that any more, I check Facebook.
Followed by: being irritated that I’m on Facebook.
Clearly, there are better ways to live, and there must be better ways to work. So, here’s the all-powerful Two Step Plan for my Self-Employed Self:
1. Prioritize tasks and set aside specific times for housework and leisure as well as writing. For a wife/mom, I think it’s important to acknowledge that your times off may not always coincide with your partner or kids’ time off. Carl and I do almost everything together, but there are evenings when he catches a movie with friends and I work (or vice versa), and it’s important to clock those hours and actually use my leisure time later. Most of us workaholics like to pretend our time is money, and the more we work the richer we are. The truth is that working ahead is more like earning paid vacation days—days we NEVER give ourselves. Talk about pointless.
2. Take breaks when you need them and make a list of at least 20 break ideas. The second part is both fun and key for me. When your brain is drained from trying to find the perfect word, you’re not going to be able to come up with fun, nourishing, energizing ways to spend your 5-15 minute break. You’ll be checking your Facebook or email for the hundredth time, and I guarantee those are both pretty low on the nourishment scale.
I’m actually dividing my list into two sets of ten: ten productive activities and ten that are purely for fun. The occasional productive, nonbrainy activity can be just as good at getting your energy up with the added bonus of feeling good about yourself. The only rule is that the task has to be something you can do in just a few minutes.
Here are my lists:
10 Ways to Be Productive with only 10 Minutes:
- Hang up the clothes that magically reappear every day on the back of my desk chair (that one’s all me, btw).
- Put away the dishes in the dish drainer
- Answer one email I’ve been avoiding or archive/delete/empty the spam folder
- Quick search through the fridge to throw out leftovers
- De-clutter one of the usual clutter spots (everybody has ’em)
- Update my reading list, shopping list, address list, or whatever other lists need it
- Shop online for the next birthday or holiday
- Return or make business calls
- Check my online writing communities/blogs
10 Ways to Unwind with only 10 Minutes:
- Work a sudoku puzzle
- Check my scrapbooking blogs or other hobby sites
- Set a timer and read whatever book I’m into
- Make a cup of tea and sit at the kitchen table, thinking about anything
- Meditate or read something nourishing
- Put some new music on my iPod
- Look at or take some pictures
- Any random bit of grooming or clothes organizing as long as it’s fun (nail painting yes, clothes folding no)
- Light a candle
- Do nothing and feel just fine about it
Am sticking those lists somewhere readily accessible and giving it a go. Will let you know how it work, and until then, hope your adventures in productivity are… um… productive.