A reply to a tweet is now the topic of my first blog post for this site in AGES!
Well, people wanted to know about it — to my surprise.
I’ve experimented, with varying degrees of success and irritation, with MANY time management processes and tools over the years. Most had tidbits I liked, some had tidbits I loved, none had everything I needed, all had a bunch of crap that, in the end, made me feel horrible.
I knew that a virtual-only solution wouldn’t work (I enjoy the tactile feeling and immediacy of writing on paper too much), and I knew that a paper-only solution would be worse (my God, the post-it notes would be EVERYWHERE). So I started to combine the two. At first it wasn’t intentional, I just did it to survive each week. I tried a bunch of different things…some analog, some virtual, some apps, different laptop and phone calendars. The list of places I had to “check” got longer and longer, but I was learning what I did and did not like.
To make matters worse, I have an inherently complicated way of working. As an affiliate who often works through larger consulting companies, I juggle up to six email addresses (and their associated calendars) each day. Because of client security protocols, I can’t even consolidate some of them into a single application like Outlook or google calendar. It’s a recipe for disaster and frustration.
Then I saw the tweet above, and realized “Hey. Everything worked this week.” And I said so on the tweet.
And people asked me what I did.
What has been working for me is a combination of Bullet Journal (not the artsy kind), block schedule, Getting Things Done, the Fabulous App, IDEO’s Highlights, and (yes) clipboards.
I still have to use multiple electronic calendars, but I built in a way to check them so that I don’t miss meetings or calls.
- Bullet Journaling to keep the high-level stuff going.
- Block Scheduling to keep the days humming (with one technique from GTD within the block schedule).
- IDEO’s Creative Confidence “Highlight” to set one focused intention for the day
- The Fabulous App to build and maintain the small habits I want to be part of my daily life.
- Clipboards to keep my focus. I no longer believe that multi-tasking is actually a thing.
Here’s how it works.
Two parts of the Bullet Journal really worked for me. One is Collections. I’ll talk about the other in a minute.
My Bullet Journal isn’t one of those pretty ones you see on YouTube with the calligraphy and inspirational quotes and stickers. (Some of those videos seem almost competitive to me, even though Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal Method, discourages this.) I draw a little in it, I have clear handwriting, and I use good markers and all that, but it isn’t a work of performance art.
The back of my Bullet Journal (I use a soft-backed kind that fits in my bag) is full of lists. Each list is a Collection. These Collections are both personal and professional.
I have a Collection of project ideas for my business. I have a Collection for when my medical appointments should be during the year (so they don’t bunch up together). I have a Collection of house projects I want to get to. A Collection of stuff for the handyman to do if I ever get him to return my texts. A Collection of what month each dog should go to the vet. A Collection of books I want to get to. A Collection of movies I want to watch. A Collection of blog ideas for my forthcoming site of on-line learning. Any time I have an idea, or realize that I need to keep track of something that will need to get done at some time in the future, I put it in a Collection. If a Collection doesn’t exist, I create one. Each Collection is on its own page. I use a different color ink for each collection, and I try to at least make the heading somewhat artsy and attractive, but that’s as far as I get on the “competitive” BuJo front.
At the beginning of each month, I read over the Collections to see what I want/need to do in that month. As you may have guessed, that’s the other part of the Bullet Journal that worked for me — setting Monthly goals, coming from my Collections. I transfer them to a page in the front of the journal designated for that month. I don’t feel pressure to do everything in all the Collections during any month, because I know I have all my ideas and obligations captured in the back. I’ll tackle them when the time is right. That is an incredibly comforting feeling. I used to keep a giant to-do list of everything I wanted to do in one place — ugh.
So now, I have a set of goals for the month, and I need to manage the days. Here’s where the Block Schedule comes in. I got the Block Schedule from Jordan Page, who is an extremely intense sort of person. You’ll see.
Jordan’s Block Schedule has been an extremely freeing technique for me. To adapt it for myself, I created a Master Block Schedule according to her guidelines. My blocks are Morning, Brain Work, Out In The World, Routine Work, Learn, Dinner, and Relax. I made sure it fits on one page. Each day, I print a copy of this sheet.
I first define my Highlight for the day (basically my big focus for the day, and what will take up the majority of the Brain Work block. The concept comes from a webinar in the IDEO Creative Confidence series).
Then, I write in the specific things I will do that fall into the other blocks, from the monthly Bullet Journal page. I also check all the online calendars and write in any meetings or calls that are scheduled (I try my best to schedule/accept calls during the Routine Work block. In-person meetings are in the Out in the World block).
The beauty of Jordan’s Block Schedule is similar to that of the Bullet Journal: It frees me. Knowing that I have made the decision to invest a certain amount of time in different sorts of things each day keeps me from piling on unreasonable amounts in any block. If I don’t get to it today, I know I will get to it tomorrow. But I won’t forget it or lose track of it. I set alarms in my phone to tell me when the work-related blocks (Brain Work, Out in the World, and Routine Work) begin and end. The rest I just manage more casually without alarms. (I do NOT use the horrible bell sounds that Jordan plays in her videos — agh! I use a nice chime that I actually respond to mentally with “Oh, great, time to move on.”)
The Getting Things Done technique that I use within the Block Schedule is the Email Scan. During my Morning blocks, I do a quick scan of all the email accounts just to make sure nothing has blown up and needs my immediate attention. Then, during the Routine Work block, I actually process emails. I do another scan at the end of the Learn block. Unexpected bonus — I have found that doing things this way reduced the overall email volume I receive during the day, as I don’t get into as much “back and forth” throughout the day.
At the end of each block, if I spent billable time, I list the time and the client at the bottom of the block. Then I know what to bill at the end of the week. (This is something that many people would do as part of the Bullet Journal, but that didn’t work for me as well as this does.) If I didn’t do something I meant to do, I transfer that to the next day’s Block Schedule sheet.
Next up: The Fabulous App is on my phone, and I use it for small personal habits in the mornings and evenings. At first, I tried tracking these in my Bullet Journal (a lot of people do), but I didn’t always have my BuJo with me wherever I was in the house. I always have my phone with me, so the App can always give me the pretty little chime that tells me to start the routine. My morning routine includes drinking water, taking meds, my face care, stretching, meditating, and breakfast. My evening routine includes face care, flossing, taking meds, being grateful, and doing situps. I like that the app reminds me (and rewards me) for doing these things without my cluttering up my schedule with them, or feeling like I’ve scheduled every waking moment of the day.
The last element is the clipboards. Super Analog! I have six clipboards that attach to 3 magnetic strips on the wall next to my desk. Each clipboard represents a project / client and has a different color cover sheet. When I set my goals for the day on the Block Schedule, I know which clipboards I’ll use during the day, but I don’t take a clipboard down until I’m ready to work on that project. That way, I have a visual / tactile reminder to stay focused on the project on that clipboard. Even though most of my work is done on the laptop, I use the paper on the clipboard for notes, especially during calls. When I’m done working on one project and ready to move to another, I hang that clipboard up and take down the next one.
That’s what is working for me for now. I’m sure I will continue to refine and evolve it, and I’d love to know what other things people are doing to make their own time work for them in a way that doesn’t make you feel horrible.