Time management has never been my strength. Part of my approach to time management is rooted in my disdain for over-organization. I don’t want to treat my time as if I were on an assembly line. For most of my life, however, I was somewhat bound by daily schedules, just like most people. In school, classes began at certain times. While employed, I was expected to arrive at the office and stay there for whatever the boss considered to be normal operating hours.
These are the parameters society expects, and there’s a long tradition behind this type of time organization.
- From the beginning of the idea of toiling to earn wages or working in return for shelter and food, certain activities needed to be conducted at certain times of the day to take advantage of the limited natural light outdoors.
- When workers are organized together to create the manpower necessary for factory-type work, schedules ensured that the group of workers could operate efficiently as one machine.
These conditions that require strict scheduling still apply, but only in a limited number of circumstances. Most middle-class jobs in the United States are no longer bound by these restrictions. There might be other considerations that result in the expectation of a pre-defined work day, like the need for a retail store to be open during what we still consider normal business hours.
I’ve done a decent job through the years of sticking to other people’s schedule — or society’s schedule — when expected, but I didn’t necessarily like it. Time for myself, my extracurricular or extravocational activities that interested me were limited to the evening and nights, when I should have been sleeping. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to put some of the more structured aspects of my life behind. I found commuting to an office in the morning, spending eight hours, sometimes longer, trading my time for money, not very interesting to me — at least not in the jobs I usually pursued.
It’s no surprise I wasn’t motivated much to improve my time management skills. Doing so would benefit my employer, theoretically, so I resisted this aspect of so-called self improvement. It’s not that I didn’t want to perform at my best at every task, but I did prioritize my life by fulfillment, and I found my jobs lacking in that respect.
Now that I’m working for myself and now that I’ve completed redesigned the way I earn money, with myself having most of the control as a business owner, I’ve begun revisiting my approach. Improving time management now isn’t just a corporate brainwashing attempt to increase productivity — paying employees the same amount for working more — it’s a way to restructure my life so I’m spending more time doing what I enjoy. Eliminating grocery shopping by outsourcing the chore to a delivery service is just one detail in this restructuring.
My work is already something I enjoy, so I don’t have to worry about finding fulfillment elsewhere. Writing online and building communities started when I was young and at school, and gave me something to do with my time. I learned computer programming and built bulletin board systems when I should have been sleeping. In college, I used my hours in the evening or at night to build web sites and worked as a consultant to professors who wanted to build their own vanity sites or class sites. While working a day job, I started writing in the evenings and nights about personal finance. This has all been personally rewarding to me, so I’m thankful I was able to transition to doing these things full-time.
But I do have other interests, and giving myself a schedule to follow helps keep me focused and moving forward. After the success I had using Google Calendar to keep track of my busy schedule during the Financial Blogger Conference, I decided to create a new calendar with daily repeating events to form structure to my day. Outside of the work that I do, I have one other main interest and one goal I’d like to take seriously.
The other interest is photography. Still trying to keep my Consumerism Commentary identity separate from my everyday persona due to the personal nature of a good portion of the historical content on this website, I don’t bring my photography onto this site. I feel, however, that through classes with one of the area’s best portrait photographers over the past few years, my skills have advanced. Some of my work is currently on display in a local exhibit. I wouldn’t consider photography as a career option; the supply of photographers far exceeds the demand. I do, however, enjoy it and if I can make some money on the side it wouldn’t hurt.
My goal is to improve my fitness. I’ve been saying this for a long time, and I’ve had some great attempts at getting fit, but they haven’t lasted long. I even joined a gym last year thinking the monthly fee would be enough to motivate me to visit frequently; it wasn’t.
For the past two weeks, my new Google Calendar with my daily schedule has been integrated into my life. I see it every morning when wake up and look at my mobile phone, and it’s easily accessible when I look at my email and begin writing in the morning. It is, however, somewhat flexible. I don’t micro-manage my own life. I use the calendar to set aside blocks of time. For example, from 8:00 in the morning until noon, I use my time for reading and writing. I read news sources and books, and I write articles for Consumerism Commentary and other websites. I try to grab breakfast during this time, as I can often eat while I read, but I often get distracted by articles and discover it’s noon before I know it.
At noon, I take a lunch break. I’ll usually make a sandwich for myself and eat while watching something recorded from the television. I find that some entertainment in the middle of the day helps me stay mentally refreshed.
In my schedule after the lunch break, I have an hour set aside for going to the gym. As soon as I implemented this schedule two weeks ago, I was able to get out of the house and get a workout, and it quickly became a habit. It has only been two weeks, but I feel I have a better chance of sticking to this schedule now that it is written down and is in front of me every day. I’ve already lost some weight.
So far, I haven’t used the entire hour to work out, so I’ve had some time built in to recover before returning to work in the afternoon. I have another block of time set aside on my calendar — three hours — for answering email and writing more. I also use this time to talk to colleagues, plan new projects, and make use of social media related to Consumerism Commentary.
After this three-hour block of time, I have an hour set aside for photography. This is the one aspect of the calendar I haven’t obeyed precisely every day since establishing the schedule. I’d like to use this time to work on my photography skills but it doesn’t always work out that way. Some days I continue working and others I begin my next scheduled activity, dinner, early. And I often return to work after dinner — a time that is not scheduled on my calendar for anything.
It’s worth thinking about whether it would be better to set aside a longer block of time for photography less frequently, but I can make that judgment and adjustment because for the most part I’m only answering to myself.
The way I’ve devised this daily calendar allows me to have flexibility, a trait of time management that I find important, but also keeps me moving in the right direction.
I still have two specific opportunities for improvement, and there are likely more:
- I’d like to schedule a better time for photography, as I mentioned above.
- I’d like to use some time to change my writing schedule so I’m writing more in advance than I am now.
Part of the reason I can be so flexible is that, as I said, I’m only answering to myself. I am not married, and I have no children. I have very limited responsibilities outside myself. If, for example, I needed to pick up a child from school every day at 3:30 in the afternoon, it would require an adjustment to the way I schedule my day. If my evenings were to include family time, I might need to use more of my evenings and nights to take on what I’m doing today. And of course, having a family shifts all priorities.
What tips do you have for time management?
Published or updated October 8, 2012.