Experiments with Time – Being Intentional with My Days

Article summary

I’ve always been fascinated with time. The way it seems to compress during stressful and exciting days, and the way it seems to slow during others. I’m also fascinated with the way people manage their time and how we choose to organize our days to accomplish our goals.

I recently was away from the office for three weeks. Three whole weeks! It was worth it, to really be able to unplug. It’s true that it takes time to really relax and stop thinking about work and the responsibilities of daily life.

Being away from the office for that long gave me the time to assess my work and time, and come back with a fresh attitude about what I call work hygiene. I’ve been back from vacation for over six weeks now, and I’ve been trying some small scheduling and time management techniques to manage the stresses of being a consultant, running a monthly event series, and just, you know, life.

Being Realistic

I need my time to myself and for my own interest. I get frustrated more easily when I don’t have time to exercise. I also crave time to read and search for inspiration outside of work, and to pursue my own creative interested. To allow time f0r all this, I’ve stopped jamming my schedule each week:

  • I’ve stopped over scheduling – That means no more than two before-work coffee meetings a week, max. And most weeks, I keep it to one early morning meeting. I keep my evenings mostly open and try not to have more than one week night commitment. This leaves room for actually breathing and enjoying life—cooking with my husband, exercise, time with friends, reading, side projects, etc. This schedule trimming also gives me flex time to stay at work a bit late when needed.
  • Weekend travel – The phrase “A Sunday well spent brings a week of content” sits really well with me. When possible, I try not to not travel two weekends in a row so I can have those Sundays to myself. I’m not from Grand Rapids, so many of my friends and family live elsewhere—requiring many weekends away from GR. I used to not have much thought about how I schedule my weekends, but I’ve learned that I need weekends at home a couple times a month to make sure I’m centered and prepped for productive weeks at work.
  • I schedule exercise like I schedule meetings – I schedule my workouts, and when possible, I go to organized workout classes instead of just going the gym. This holds me accountable and gives me a concrete time to workout rather than putting it off.

Dedicating Time to Professional Development

Now that I’ve cleaned up my mornings and am committing to less early morning conversations, I have more time to focus on my own work. Two to three days a week I’m dedicating time for professional development. Keeping the time slot to 30 to 45 minutes, I block off time a couple mornings a week to work on getting better at my job (reading, online courses, etc.). For me, this time must be scheduled and treated like a real commitment.

I’ve tried carving out time at home during the evening for professional development but there are too many distractions at home. If I put this kind of task off until later in the day, it’s simply too easy to find other more important things to work on. So this concept of placing professional development first, but in a very small chunk of time, helps me accomplish small goals each week.

Cleaning up My Communication

  • Stashing my phone – Unless I’m awaiting a call, I keep my phone in my bag away from my desk. I can still receive email and text messages on my phone, but it’s way less distracting to keep my phone and all the social media it holds away from my desk.
  • Turning off chat – I’ve started keeping chat clients off when possible. This limits the constant thrashing I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Being online can be an efficient way to communicate and share ideas, but sometimes I need to turn it off so I don’t feel obligated to respond to all chats or requests right away.
  • Avoiding email first thing in the morning – If I get in to work at 8:45 AM and go straight to email, there are days that I will go so far down the rabbit hole of managing emails I’ve received that I don’t actually start real work until 11, which throws off my entire day. So, I either respond to emails early in the morning before work, or wait until lunch time.

Creating a Sleeping Schedule

I recently read an article about exercise and sleep. The message was the more you put into your own personal care, the more you can care for others.

Each day I know there are around 8–10 hours working, 1–2 hours of personal projects, 1–1.5 hours of exercise, 1–3 hours of time with my husband or friends, and then a solid 8 hours of sleep.

In order to accomplish what I want to each day and be my best, I know I need a full night of sleep, exercise, and a full and busy day. I’ve learned that I cannot wake up any later than 6:30 AM, and sometimes wake up earlier, at 5:15 AM. This means getting in bed around 9:45 or 10 PM. If I hit this routine, I know I have a much better chance of achieving my goals for the day. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part of work for me, and this schedule eliminates that problem—I am up and being productive for a couple of hours before I even get into work, giving me momentum to keep rolling through my morning.

Simplifying My Organization

I’m trying to use Evernote to store & organize everything. Notes, to-dos, ideas, blog post drafts, notes from meetings, future travel plans, to-do lists for personal tasks, the list goes on.

This has been helpful for getting work done, from anywhere. Ideas for blog posts, projects, and more will pop up when I’m away from my desk—maybe while I’m running or right as I’m getting into bed. Instead of waiting to address my ideas the next time I’m at my computer, I’m using Evernote on my phone to write outlines, create to-dos, or re-read meeting notes on the go. Then, the next time I am at my desk and ready to do solid work on that task, I know I can go into Evernote and find that work, already started.

For the couple months leading up to my vacation, I had many days where I’d come home feeling drained, frustrated, and like I’d spent most of my day context switching from one small problem to the other. I’m grateful for the time away from work; it gave me fresh perspective that prompted me to be intentional about my calendar, my goals, and how I manage my day to day.