Monday, 31 March 2014

Oh. It seems that I’m NOT Superwoman

Huh. Who'd have guessed?

This bolt of enlightenment has come about as a result of doing my monthly review and Q1 review, where I am steadily noting all the things I haven't managed to do from my list of 'next actions' for March and/or Jan-Mar. Partly, this is because I have decided to change the priority of some goals (um, because I wanted to do them more than the other things... like writing book 6 instead of editing book 5; doing anything other than housework). Mostly it is because I have been singularly inept at remembering that I can only spend a minute once.

I hate not being able to tick off things I have achieved, so I am going to try two things for April: allocating time to projects (rather than allocating 'next actions') and returning to time-boxing.

Most of my projects have 'next actions' that are in themselves pretty concrete ("Finish editing book 5") but which can take elastic amounts of time depending on whether my head is in editing mode or not. Some days I can clear the scheduled pages easily; other days it is a real slog. Also, book 6 is bubbling away too vividly to ignore, and if I spend an hour making notes on that, there is an hour less to spend on editing. Likewise, "Tidying the garden" has technically got a concrete end-point (the garden is tidy) but we all know that that scenario is unreachable!

What would be much easier to monitor (and hence feel like I have achieved something) is to allocate time to these projects. Instead of "edit book 5 up to page 300" I will "spend X hours on editing". Similarly, instead of "tidying the border by the lawn" I will "spend Y hours tidying the garden".

The added bonus for this is that it will make me look at how much free time there is in my schedule and be sensible about what I can achieve in it. If there are no free days in a week, it would be impossible to have edited 40 pages of book 5, weeded a large border, planted lots of seeds, finished my report for Rotary, done the housework, read at least one book and written to four friends by the end of it, yet sometimes my weekly 'to do' lists look like that!

Time-boxing has worked well for me (see here) but often ends up failing because I've allocated tasks to the time rather than just allocated the time to a project area. Since I'm ludicrously poor at estimating 'time to completion' on tasks, things have crept into other time-slots and I've ended up feeling over-scheduled, at which point I abandon everything and end up doing nothing.

So, for April, I counted up how many free days I have and converted that into free hours. Then I looked at all my project areas and allocated time to them, rather than tasks.
[Oh, and I made sure that I scheduled time for: catch-up/unexpected things/"mosquito tasks"*]

I have 11 ½ 'free' days in April (yes – this is why you overestimate how much you’re going to get done – you have fewer free days than you think!). Allowing 8 hours per day (possibly an underestimation, but better that way than the other...) that gave me 92 hours to allocate to projects. [I realise this is ignoring evenings which are also technically 'free' and in which I could probably achieve heaps, but I would rather under-allocate and over-achieve than vice versa]

I then started to guesstimate time on an hours per week basis to: Chimwemwe work, writing (encompassing editing and sketching out book 6), writing to friends, running, gardening, housework, reading, and emerging tasks/"mosquito tasks" and quickly clocked up about two hundred hours! Whittling it down to 92 has made me be far more realistic over what I might achieve in April and how many hours per week I will be able to spend on each area!

Having produced my 'hours per project' list for the month, I then spread out the hours per project area over the weeks for April (actually, up to May 4th as I work in Monday to Sunday blocks). I have to say, using a spreadsheet kept me right as I invariably pencilled in more hours than there were free that week and had to start horse-trading with the project areas: a little less of this so I can do a bit more of that...

This up-front effort will hopefully make my weekly/daily scheduling a whole heap easier, as now I just have to time-box the hours for the week into a diary (and use my sand-timers on the day to keep me right). If I manage to achieve a 'next action' I will of course tick that off on the main lists, but if I don't, at least I will have progressed towards it.

Thank heavens for Philofaxy, since as I am back to time-boxing, I need a day per page diary, but as I am trialling this method, I only need a month of it, and can just print off the requisite pages from the diary files. Bless you Steve and Ray!

As well as writing down what time I intend to spend on each area, I am also going to note down how much time I did spend on each area so that May's list might be based on a tad more evidence (I am a scientist after all...).

I'll keep you posted as to how it's working (and show you pictures of the system in progress!).

[*"mosquito tasks" are small, irritating things that don't warrant an individual slot for each task, but which can be lumped together into a 'do all those irritating little things in this hour' slot]

1 comment:

  1. Time boxing seems an excellent way to make a dent in tasks. I am going to try it as I am hopeless at figuring out how long things take and expect to do far too much in a day than is humanly possible! I have only just realised how long things take me to do that never even make it onto my 'to do' list like laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.