Yesterday, I talked about the importance of not going at 100% speed all the time. Give yourself some breathing room! If you run your life at an 80% pace, you’ll have gas in the engine when a crisis hits and you need to put out 100% for awhile.
I want to tie up one loose string. Neva asked today in a comment if feeding a horse in the middle of the day counts as a Task. Yes, it does. We all have chores that pop up periodically, whether it’s daily, weekly, or whatever. They’re Tasks. Somebody has to do them. If that’s you, then you have to schedule it. I would guess feeding the horse might even qualify as Fun, but I don’t know. For sure, riding the horse counts as Fun.
I want to talk about those To Do Lists a bit more. I’ve mentioned that I spend all of about 5 minutes every night making the To Do List for the next day. My theory is that my subconscious can start gearing up overnight for those Tasks. A lot of times in the morning, I’ll go soak in the jacuzzi first thing. (Yes, we have a jacuzzi. It’s a luxury I’d never have bought for myself, but it came with the house, and it just didn’t make sense to ask the previous owners to take it away merely because it was too good for us proletarians.) What I find is that sitting in the hot water for a few minutes in the morning gets my brain revved up. Often, I’ll get new and creative ideas in the water and will then be ready to go for the day. (Kind of like Archimedes, who ran out of the bath buck naked yelling “Eureka!”)
But a daily To Do List isn’t really enough to manage my life. I also have a weekly To Do List, which I write in 5 minutes on Sunday nights. Typically, this will list the Projects I’m working on for the week, and any important Tasks. This week’s list has 6 items on it. 3 of those are Projects I’m working on, and I budgeted 10 hours apiece for each one. 2 items are Fun things to do (a book to read, and my Secret Project X). 1 item is to do my email/blogging every day.
I use my weekly To Do List to help me construct my daily To Do List every night. And if there are things that pop up unexpectedly, those also get added to the daily To Do List. I had a few of those this week which I added to my lists as they appeared.
At the beginning of every month, I also write out a monthly To Do List. This typically lists the major projects I want to work on or complete in the month. I use this list every week to guide me in creating my weekly To Do List.
And there is a quarterly To Do List, which I create four times per year, in January, April, July, and October, to list the big projects I want to work on for the quarter. This obviously helps me set my monthly To Do List.
Finally, I have an annual To Do List, which guides me in choosing my quarterly lists.
It should be obvious that the longer the time period that a To Do List covers, the less detailed it is. So my annual To Do List is very strategic, whereas my daily To Do List is very tactical. By using a cascading series of lists, I can manage my life without spending a lot of time micromanaging it. There just isn’t any way to see six months ahead, so it’s important to keep flexible. By using lists with increasing fine details, I manage my life at both the Big Picture and the Little Picture. If you think about it for a second, that’s the Snowflake Method applied to scheduling. In the computer software world, this general method is often called “divide and conquer” and for a certain class of problems, it’s known to be optimal. I can’t prove that it’s optimal for time management or novel design, but I think it works pretty well.
OK, any questions on time management? I probably can’t answer them, but you all are very smart, and I’ll bet that some of you have answers for any question that might be asked.
Steve Lewis says
Okay, only about 3.5% of this is me kissing up, but I have to say that this post was just what I needed. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment (changing careers, going back to school, improving my writing, etc.) I personally never thought of a “Time Management Snowflake.” And I used to work for Franklin Covey! Go figure.
Randy, would it be possible to go over this a little more in depth? If there’s maybe a process you go through, etc. I really like this concept. The light bulb really went off for me on this one. Thanks.
Grey Drane says
I think this is my first ever comment to your blog, Randy, so first just let me say that I’m finding it all extremely useful and interesting! Well done!
But let’s get straight to the point. (Yeah, I know, too late!) I think you mentioned at the beginning of this time-management series that you do your daily to-do lists the old-fashioned way, using pen and paper (hmmm… or was that the time tracking you did by hand? Anyway…), and I can see the benefits of that over complicating your life with software. But now we’ve got a piece of paper for time tracking, a piece for daily to-do lists, a piece for weekly, a piece for monthly…. You see where I’m going with this.
So my question, then, is this: Do you, or anyone else reading this, know of a good program to use to keep track of all these different time management aids? I’m thinking maybe even just an Excel workbook or an organized series of Word files, but maybe there’s some other productivity tool (for Mac, of course! 😉 that would work better?
Like Steve, I love the Snowflake time management idea, but I’d like to hear how you organize all your different lists. And do you find it useful to keep past to-do lists, say, for efficiency-analysis purposes?
Randy sez: What I find is that sitting in the hot water for a few minutes in the morning gets my brain revved up.
Huh??? You sit in hot water? To wake up?
Often, I’ll get new and creative ideas in the water and will then be ready to go for the day. (Kind of like Archimedes, who ran out of the bath buck naked yelling “Eureka!”)
I’ll be honest, there’s something about the graphic this conjures up that I find just a little disturbing: I don’t know if it’s the image of Randy running around dripping, naked, and yelling—or getting creative ideas while naked in the water.
It’s been a while since I last commented, but rest assured I have been following this blog around like a hawk follows it’s prey.
So…does going to school/work count as a task, fun [Hey…I like school, but I can hardly use it as a reward] or project?
And yes, it would be nice of you to elaborate a bit, like Steve said. You know, like, is your annual to-do list something like this:
1. Get 2 [what?] books finished.
2. Writing fiction writing e-zine every month
3. Update blod at least every other day/
Something like this or something less concrete like:
1. Try to get some books finished
2. Try to be regular with e-zine/blog.
Or something completely different? Did I get it all wrong? Or am I just confusing everyone including myself.
Oh, one more thing. Do you think writing prompts are useful? And I think there is a problem with the RSS Feed. I am getting the email, but when I click the link it doesn’t open a window. I’m not sure, maybe this is only the fault of my computer.
Or wait, was that two things?
Valerie Fentress says
I’ve been overwhellemed by my To Do List lately, and in that lost track of my writing. This is definatly a tool I will use.
Sometiems it’s hard to be strategic when creativity rules your brain.
Rachel Smith says
Your tips are very structured, but really helpful Randy!
To do lists really work well for me (when I can find the post-it note I’ve written it on), and I want to encourage everyone to avoid feeling guilty if there are a few items that you don’t get to cross off by the end of the day. Organization and time management is unnatural to some of us, and I’m often proud of myself for even writing a to-do list and cleaning my desk(hee-hee)! Praise God for those of us ADHD, clutterbug, running-around-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off, writers! Keep trying to manage that time everyone.
Lara Krupicka says
I like your snowflake time management idea. I need that kind of direction. I started this week with a “mission statement” and long-term goals, but wasn’t sure how to make those actionable. So your annual/quarterly/monthly, etc. breakdown examples I think will help greatly in getting me doing that.
But what about prioritizing? I can kind of see how your projects to tasks breakdown and the 80% rule get things in place to get done. But do you have a strategy for what must get done today and what can be shifted on to the next day’s list? This is where I feel I mess up most often.
Lois Hudson says
I once heard that the reason we humans have so much trouble with time management is because we were not created for time; we were created for eternity where time is not measured.
Wish I could give you the source.
I’m with Valerie and Lara. I’ve had a lot of times in life when I’d do the to-do lists and it works for a little bit but then gets overwhelming, especially when unexpected things pop up like overtime or the kids’ activities or funerals. The thought of breaking it all up into quarterly/monthly, etc., terms would be far less confusing than just adding it all to one list and trying to tackle it. That definitely will be one of the urgent tasks for today, along with laundry.
Thanks Randy for taking the time and mental patience to help us with these things.
Karla Akins says
I write my best music in the jacuzzi. 🙂
ML Eqatin says
It’s all in your expectations. If you are making your to do list with the idea that it is merely a suggestion, which may be re-directed by the boss according to mew data, then the list will help de-stress you.
But if you set out as someone who ‘owns’ this period of time and are determined to wrestle it into the shape you have predetermined, to-do lists can create more stress than they solve.
I like Lois’ quote. When I feel the old ‘gotta get it done’ monster taking over, I consider that eternity can come into the now if I just raise my focus to a point further on.
Unfortunately, when I consider that any of us are only a heartbeat away from eternity, my old self yells “So that’s why you gotta finish this book!”
Pauine Youd says
Along with the yearly, quarterly, monthly lists, I need to know the lead times for holiday writing. It seems like I get inspired to do Christmas things while I’m Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving things when school starts, and Easter really sneaks up on me.
I know different publishers have different lead times, but does anyone have a general plan like big red letters on your calendar that shout THINK CHRISTMAS!
Lois Hudson says
I’d say write your holiday articles and stories, during the holiday times when the inspiration hits and you can really capture the essence you want—with the intention of submitting it for the next year’s holiday, whatever that is.
Most magazines plan holiday materials at least six to eight months ahead of publication (and publication happens the month before the actual holiday). So it isn’t unreasonable to submit a Christmas proposal in March. Shows the submissions editors you are creatively thinking ahead, and it might get you in ahead of the rush.
I already manage my time in a similar way to Randy. Regarding where to keep all the paper, I actually write them down in my diary.
On a Sunday night I write down all the things I want to get done that week then allocate them to days.