Daniel Catalaa

Time management

(Article by Daniel Catalaa, published Dec 31st, 2009)
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Towards the end of spring 2008 I was feeling overwhelmed by deadlines I had promised to meet and by too many things going on at the same time. I was jumping from one project to the other and was too stressed out to enjoy any of them. To give you an idea, I was averaging 10 more hours than usual per week at work, I was enrolled in two night time classes, I was training for my first sprint triathlon, and I was trying to do some online dating.

Since experiencing wellness is my current top priority in life, I decided to do a retrospective analysis of where things went wrong and to learn from the experience and share with you the findings.

Theory vs. Practice
Though I am well organized, on paper I scheduled things so tightly that any unforseen circumstance, like a coworker on vacation or a delay with a delivery, would throw me off. What I found was that I was using an overly optimistic assumption that everything would go well, and this was just as limiting as the assumption that everything would go wrong.

So I have started to allow more time for the tasks that I have planned for the day. If I used to give myself 30 minutes to shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast, I now give myself 45 minutes.

I was underestimating the time it took to complete tasks because I did not keep into account these realities:
  • Preparation time: many activities cannot just be started, they require a certain preparation. Running required stretching beforehand, cooking required purchasing the ingredients, and doing electrical work in a safe way is best accomplished by first shutting off the main power switch.

  • Assessment time: before concluding a task you will need to assess whether the task was completed to satisfaction. This typically involves some type of measurement like a visual assessment, feedback from the person that you are serving, or a before-and-after comparison.

  • Clean up time: to perform many tasks we use specialized equipment that later needs to be stowed away (e.g. logging off of a computer, putting tools away, recharging batteries, disassembling kits). Also, some tasks by their very nature will generate new work. For example, the holes drilled to hang a towel rack will result in wood shavings and dry wall powder falling onto the bathrooom floor.

  • Transition time: when switching from one activity to another you need time to switch your mindset because different rules apply and different perceptions and thought processes are necessary. If you are moving from a mental to a physical activity, from a repetitive to a creative activity, or switching from working alone to working with a group, you need to access those parts of your brain that are most useful for the new situation. Rapid transitions can be very time consuming and draining as experienced with stop-and-go traffic or constant incoming phone calls while you are trying to do something else.

  • Human interaction time: relationships are a key asset of successfull people and relationships take time. People remember more how they were treated than what was accomplished, so budget some time to connect with your fellow man, be they clients, coworkers, vendors, or family.

  • Unexpected opportunity time: as I go about my day new opportunities show up unexpectedly like a sale on an item I wanted, a client that calls out of the blue for a quote, or a street entertainer that is playing a very stirring melody. Having some extra time to work with allows me to capitalize on or enjoy these unforseen events.

Do less and do it better
Scale back your work load and responsibilities till you have raised the quality of what you do (and the pleasure you feel while performing these tasks) to a level that is acceptable to you.

It may be hard at first to remove items from your to do list. A simple way of reducing is to ask for each item \"will completing this task improve my relationship with someone I care about or with myself?\". If the answer is \"no\", you know what to do.

Waste time consciously
In most cases, when people waste time, they are unware of it. For example, try to detail out loud the last 3 times you wasted time: Where were you? What were you doing? What made you stop?

You are not a machine, so your schedule should be tailored to the needs of a human being and include rests, short meditations or breathing exercises, stretches, and naps when feasable. Allow yourself to be fully engaged in what you do while working, and then be fully disconnected when resting.

There is a temptation to live in No man's land, where you are neither working nor resting. Think about situations where you may have vegetated in front of the television instead of going to sleep, or did time at the office instead of working with gusto.