my way part 5: time management

Okay… I do a lot… I mean a LOT! Next to a 40 hours a week job I do freelancing work, I do some voluntary work, I do some sports, I find the time to work on personal projects and responsibilities and I have a surprisingly busy social agenda. WTF… my week must consist of at least 200 hours!?

Well that is not the case… Working efficiently, planning and taking that little bit extra time to look ahead makes all the difference. An up to date agenda is a start… but what about those double bookings and those things that tend to slip in unintentionally. How can I deal with on the fly social events?

Everybody always says to me: “you don’t have time, you make it”. I do not agree with this at all. I would rather say: “There is only so much time, better use it well”.

Plan

I use a very tight planning system. Everything goes into time-boxes and is planned accordingly. I have an agenda that I follow closely and even seemingly trivial things go into the stack of things I need to do. This way I can check if it is done or if I still have some work to do. This almost project like approach to time management allows me to optimally use my time and I always have a filled backlog of things that I can do.

Static vs. Agile planning

Planning is one thing, executing it is another. I found that thing almost never go completely according to plan. But! It’s still important to have the planning to show intention and time framing. If we talk about planning we are mainly talking about timing things together in the most efficient way. There are however things that can only be done in a specific time period. Like meeting up with a friend or a doctors appointment. There are also thing that are not required to be done at a specific time.

I found myself in the situation where I used the specific difference between these static events and these “can be done any time” events. Static events are always there and cannot be moved. Agile event are just time planned into voids. So adding empty spaces in my calendar is a very common practice for me. These empty space represent any work that “can be done any time”. If in my agenda I stumble upon a block like this I look at what events are still to be done and I go do them.

Because of this way of working I have the freedom to rapidly insert or remove items from my agenda and I would still be able to keep going. Agile events like watching a movie, playing a game or doing some personal projects can also be easily pushed out if the immediate future and put on hold if that is required. You do have to remember to put these items back in there later on. Relaxation should be part of your planning.

Do take your time

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and that old lady in front of you at the register is just taking ages to pay her 3 items from the shop… We all have been in those situations where we tend to plan ti tightly. Be honest to yourself and allow yourself to plan some extra contingency buffers. Yes, at the end of the day you might have some extra time because of it… but is that really a bad thing? There is always something else you can do, always some empty time slot you can move over.

Personally I would be rather early with something than late. The buffer allows me to do that.

Priority

In planning we almost forget the most important thing, Priority! Is it more important to go visit a friend or do those groceries for your mom? Life is about difficult decisions, and these are the easy ones. Get things prioritized. I put taking out the trash over watching television. This is very logical when you look at it. But when push comes to shove one might be more willing to put on the TV…

Priority is never a fixed position. I can go and pick up the groceries right now instead of going to a friend, but that friend also needs attention. So after some point you will need to move that friend up in priority. How do you do that?

I use a system that is fairly common in agile planning. I give everything I want to do a value relative to another. I also give them a price. These two combined make it easier to determine what to do first. I might rank picking up groceries and going to see a friend at the same value, but visiting that friend might take longer. Therefore it is profitable to pick up the groceries. But if I pick something over the other I increase the value of that “dropped” item. The next time visiting that friend will be more profitable…

And sometimes… a blogpost can be posted a day late because publishing it exactly that day wasn’t more important than something else… sorry…

Combine and expend

If you are busy combine things to save a lot of time. Going for a coffee with a friend downtown and suggest to have a bit of a stroll. While doing that you can go to that shop downtown to get that thing you really needed. Simple things as combining pleasure and work during friday afternoon drinks are the easy ones but try to be more creative. I organize coding events where I meet up with friends co-workers and other people who are interested for some coding, talks and drinks. This way I combine working on coding qualities of me and my colleagues with a social event while I’m learning and teaching. And in the middle of that I do some networking with the folks I have not met yet. See, combining things can make for an interesting and useful activity that is also fun.

If you do things you are good at they will get along very quickly and you’ll have fun in the process. When you do things you don’t want to do it takes too long and you will get to hate it. Some things you will have to do, but many can be expended. As a businessman I expend the work that need to be done on my financials. Instead I have time for that extra work that is paying the guy doing it for me. I have the luxury to be able to afford an accountant. But even without the funds I’m sure you have a friend that is better at it. In return you can do work for the one that is doing the work for you. We tend to forget that even if we only spend 3 extra minutes doing something but get frustrated with it we will take at least an extra 10 minutes compensating that frustration. Think before you do something you really don’t like doing. That dishwasher might be expensive but it saves you time and frustration.

The application I never build, yet..

What if there is an application that will keep track of what you need to do. An application that will only shove things into your face when your ready to deal with it. It might be a bit more administration but I know that more and more people are starting to doing just this. A Scrum trainer I once met said he had a Scrum board in the house for the housework. His wife would take care of the tasks and she would negotiate with him what he would be able to do in the upcoming month. He said that worked perfectly for them. I say… +1.

But what if we could create that ultimate system?… new issue trackers are born week and time management tools are doing just the same. What would make this system really different from any other. My idea is simple take your agenda, fill in the blanks and let the application give you a prod when your doing nothing. The prod would invite you to do something, something from your free backlog. If you choose to watch TV every time it will drop off the list as you already done that enough for that month. Might be a very forceful system and you’ll still have to do it. But its a gentle reminder that you need to get some things done.

Interested? Currently my backlog is full with other things and the priority is low. If your interested and want to help out… I might push that priority up a bit. Ow,… it is probably gonna take more than a month to code it. Just a little warning about the actual work size.

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