Despite the trend of green design and sustainability, most of us neglect our most obvious, fundamental and overlooked resource. We waste time right and left, wonder where it goes, and never seem to have enough of it to accomplish goals or life plans. Managing time is an art and a skill. Consider these creative time management tips and approaches.
Time Is Not A Renewable Resource
Of all the resources available to us, time is the only one that everyone has the same amount of. Once a minute has passed, it’s gone. We cannot reclaim, recycle or renew it. The difference between achieving our dreams and goals or not is mostly based on how we use our time resource. It’s fairly easy to be efficient, but being effective in our use of time is often a crap shoot.
Designers juggle many concurrent tasks and projects of various sizes, levels of importance and complexities. There are incoming client requests that compete for attention in the middle of the projects we’re developing. There is a constant tension experienced between the task at hand and the one waiting to be started. While I’m working on one project I’m feeling the pressure of another. Does this sound familiar?
Many books and blogs deal with issues of time management and how to get things done. Bullet journals, FranklinCovey, Full Focus Planner and David Allen’s GTD are just some of the myriad sources of advice, systems and forms. These are all useful, and I have picked and chosen from among them to create my own time and project management systems.
In the process I have made a few discoveries on my own. I’m sharing them with you here.
The primary tactic for guarding our time is to remove distractions. Nothing slows our progress more than a distraction, and no time management or productivity system really deals with these time-suckers. Distractions are usually small, and we don’t notice we’re being pulled off course because most of them are in some way necessary. Some of my distractions have been email, phone calls and text messages.
Identify your distractions and determine how you’ll manage them. Time is wasted when we do the wrong thing at the wrong time. People and tasks both can be distracting time-suckers.
Guard Your Time
Only you can slay the time suckers and design your schedule. Being a guardian of your resource is vital to accomplishing things for yourself and for others. Set boundaries and enforce them with yourself and others. A friend of mine designated Wednesdays for study and research, and made himself unavailable for any contact the entire day. He burrowed in and got things accomplished without interruption.
Every wall has a gate in it somewhere. The key is to know when to open it or keep it shut.
Setting boundaries requires enforcement. Boundaries are only as strong as you make them. Your time will be robbed if you allow it. Don’t worry: maintaining boundaries will allow for spontaneity and sudden changes in plans. Every wall has a gate in it somewhere. The key is to know when to open or keep it shut.
Design Your Time
It’s easier to keep your time boundaries and your well-being intact if you plan ahead. Here are my 6 tips for designing your time:
1. Design your week ahead of time. Take part of the Friday, Saturday or Sunday prior to assess the week being completed and plan the week ahead, scheduling appointments projects and tasks. Include your personal and professional time in this, because your life is made up of more than work. I also schedule my planning time. Scheduling an entire week rather than just a day ahead provides a 20,000-foot level view of your time.
2. Block your time. Morning is a block. Afternoon and evening are blocks. Set aside mornings for one type of activity, afternoons for another and evenings for a third.
3. Designate one day during the week where you’ll take care of business. This is essential if you’re a freelancer or contract designer. The reality is, you’re in business, which means you have record-keeping, marketing and administrative responsibilities as well as creative labor. I designated “Admin Fridays” in which I focus on business.
4. Know your peaks and valleys. We do not function at peak levels all the time. Energy levels and attention spans ebb and flow. Most people have a consistent rhythm of peaks and troughs each day. At what time of day are you most creative or productive? If it’s mornings, don’t schedule meetings and errands until your afternoon block. Learn how you ebb and flow, and schedule accordingly.
5. Take breaks between your blocks. Eat a meal. Go for a walk. Play with your dogs. Take your kids out for ice cream. Play a game. Put your feet up. You’ll move into the next block refreshed.
6. Take a weekly sabbath, also known as a sabbatical. The idea of sabbath is simply rest and reflection. Most designers I know, myself included, tend to work long hours during the week and on weekends alike. Because of deadlines, unforeseen challenges and unplanned events, we tend to make up for “lost” time on weekends. Creative energy is directly affected by fatigue, illness and anxiety. Rest and reflective moments are necessary for our overall well-being, and allow us to make better decisions. A sabbath allows us to stop working, gain perspective, retain objectivity and experience contentment.
Given all the emphasis on being green and reducing carbon footprints, consider the one thing you can never get back once it’s gone. By planning and following through, you’ll conserve, waste less and become more effective with your time resource.
What are some ways you “sustain” your time? Add your tips in the comments.