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I work from home. My schedule is mine to organize, arrange, and use as sensibly as I can. To do that, I need help managing my time wisely. I plan to start substitute teaching as soon as school starts back up again. Then I will need even more help managing my time – using what’s left over to accomplish everything I need and want to accomplish in my writing. I have found some techniques and tools that work for me – and I want to share them with you.
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Techniques for Managing My Time Wisely
The first technique I’ve adopted, that has made a real difference for me, is to focus on producing instead of working. I can work and accomplish nothing. I think most people can. The busy-ness of working can obscure the fact that sometimes I don’t produce anything: blog posts, a new chapter, an email, or graphics. Instead, I spend time on research, learning about the technical aspects of blogging, or reading someone else’s email.
This focus on producing has been a game changer for me. I can sit down and say, “In two hours I’ll have one blog post finished, along with the graphics.” This puts pressure on me to keep my focus and not be distracted by anything that will stop me from producing. It also means that I set aside non-producing time for learning and research.
The second technique is the Pomodoro technique. I used this technique extensively when finishing my recently-published book, Rising Above the Fog. The Pomodoro technique, created in the 90s by Francesco Cirillo, is based on four steps:
- Set a time (the Pomodoro – so named because the time was tomato shaped, and pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato) for 25 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, take a short 5-minute break.
- Go through the cycle four times
- Then take a longer 15- to 30-minute break.
When using the Pomodoro Technique, I like to take a short walk around the kitchen or driveway for my 5-minute breaks and do some simple house-cleaning for the longer breaks. That way, I get the change of pace I need, some physical movement, and manage to keep my house clean.
The final technique I use is to take some time every evening to schedule the next day. I tried mapping out the entire week at a time but found that didn’t work for me. So, every evening I review what I accomplished, go over my long-term plans for writing, and schedule the next day. I include home items (clean the bathrooms, laundry), errands (groceries, library), career tasks (write a post, mind-map a chapter), and personal improvement (walk, read). Not everything gets scheduled every day and not everything gets accomplished that I plan. But I have a plan going into every day.
Tools for Managing My Time Wisely
I started using Trello about a year ago. I started with the free basic plan, but now I’m up to the $45 a year plan. I organize everything for life, family, and ministry on Trello. That, along with my Google calendar has replaced my bullet journal. Although I loved the paper-and-pencil approach of my bullet journal, it was not efficient for me. If you’re unfamiliar with Trello, hop over to YouTube, watch a few videos, and give it a try.
I mentioned it above, by Google calendar deserves its own mention. As with all cloud-based programs, the ability to sync across devices is essential. I can pull up my calendar on my phone, at my mom’s, while on vacation, or anywhere else. I have a personal calendar and a financial calendar. I can toggle either of them on or off if I need to. I miss my paper planners, but honestly, the digital tools just work better for me.
I have a desktop computer and a laptop. I love that I can sync all my documents in Dropbox and have them available anywhere. No more thumb drives (unless my old desktop decides not to do the Internet thing, which it sometimes does). I found the basic free service wasn’t enough for me, so I have the lowest paid plan – which is 1 TB of storage. That should be plenty for me for quite a while.
Excel, while not a new and splashy as some tools, is a workhorse. I use it to track all my ministry and family expenses. I’ve used web-based programs and Quicken, but honestly, I like the simplicity of Excel. I also use it for brainstorming. I find the ‘sort’ function – arranging my ideas by topic or alphabetically – is priceless!
Yes, I use my phone – specifically the timer on my phone – a lot! I also have the Trello, Dropbox, and Excel apps on my phone, but don’t’ use them nearly as much as the timer. The timer is what I use most for productivity. It is my favorite tool for the Pomodoro technique, working on a deadline, or even perusing Facebook (set the timer for 20 minutes, and when time’s up it’s back to work).
That’s it; the tools and techniques I use to keep me on track. But, while considering techniques and tools, it’s always good to keep in mind the principles of the Word:
Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16