Get Stuff Done

Last week I spent some time talking to my students about strategies to help them manage their time better and be more efficient, since a lot of them are feeling quite overwhelmed with their rigorous course loads, extracurricular activities, family obligations, and the need to also be teenagers who have fun. Lucky for them, time-management is my jam. I'm the girl that read a book on the subject and then took the author's words to heart and tracked every minute of my life for a week to analyze my strengths and weaknesses. People often ask me how I “do so much” or “get it all done,” which has made me take a really solid look at the habits and routines I have integrated into my own life and am constantly reassessing. For the record, I don’t consider myself a Superwoman who knocks it out of the park twenty-four seven. Sometimes I do let things slide, half-ass things, or procrastinate. Some days I even come home and SIT ON THE COUCH FOR AN HOUR STRAIGHT (cue gasps). But I do try to make the most out of each day, prioritize like a boss, and plan ahead. And like I told my students, it’s taken thirty-five years to feel like I have a better handle on things, so it really is one of those things that require a great deal of trial and error.

I really hesitated about whether or not to write this, since we’re all capable adults and no one likes a know-it-all, but if Marie Kondo can tell everyone how to organize their sock drawers, I guess we can do whatever we want. Some of these strategies are ridiculously obvious and easy, and I take credit for none of them. Some of them also aren’t meant for everyone or for every situation. It’s all about finding out what works for us, in the place that we’re in, to feel successful (and even that looks differently for different people; heck, what feels like the right thing to do for me on Tuesday may not be the same on Saturday).

To-Do Lists
I live and die by my to-do lists; without one I sort of feel… itchy. And sad. I make one every morning at home for the afternoon/evening when I arrive home from work, and then I get to work I make one for what I have to get done there. I create a massive one every Friday for the weekend, divided into categories for home, work, self, and other. The visual reminder is really motivating and writing everything down ensures I don’t forget to do things.

I love setting a timer for a certain about of time and getting done what I can in that space, and then taking a break. At that point I either return to the task or move on to something else. A lot of times when I get home I’ll set a timer for thirty minutes and get done as many chores as I can; that way I make some progress on keeping things neat, but then also don’t let all of my precious work-week time get sucked away with mundane tasks. This also works really well with grading papers and working out- you can always get through thirty or forty minutes of something not super enjoyable if you know there’s an ending. I use the Forest app, as well, since it can help make my phone less tempting to pick up.

Calendering Tasks (Specifically: grading)
This simple idea has totally change my grading. Sure, I get behind some, but every time I assign my students something I then assign myself dates for grading it. That way I can be realistic about the work load, I can be flexible with my personal time, and I can make sure I’m making the progress necessary to prevent a massive paper-pile-up. I am completely caught up right now and I credit the grading calendar for keeping my honest and efficient.

Chunking Tasks
This is really helpful for bigger projects, like, say, undecorating the house after Christmas or doing some sort of home improvement project. I’ll break down what I’m doing into reasonable chunks and then schedule them out so that I’m making progress in a timely manner but don’t have to necessarily commit hours at one time to something.

Reward Yourself
This might be as simple as a cup of coffee or an hour of guilt-free Netflix. I think lab rats have proven that all living things love being rewarded, humans not being an exception. Sometimes we are intrinsically motivated, but sometimes a little bit of external motivation is necessary. I’d never need a reward to read books, but I have definitely used this idea to help get me through half-marathon training when the mileage starts climbing.

The Future You
This is so corny, but I always thing what the future me wants the present me to do. The Future Christine of this weekend doesn’t want to grade papers at home, so the Present Christine has to grade extra on week nights. The Future Christine of next Christmas doesn’t want to panic about Christmas costs, so the Present Christine sets aside forty or so dollars a month to alleviate the burden. That’s to say we should always be living in the future, as our current happiness and comfort is too, but you have to give a little to get a little.

Identify Time Sucks and Plan Accordingly
My time suck? Browsing on my phone. When the screen time function was released on the iPhone I was a little surprised at how much time I spent on social media and the web browser, so I actively tried to reduce my time. Like I told my students, we need time sucks! We need entertainment, distractions, and silly ways to connect. But there comes a point where we have to ask ourselves if we could do something more productive than looking at makeup tutorials on Instagram, watching another hour of TV, or playing mindless mobile games on our phones.  Ideally, you’ll use these “time sucks” as rewards for being productive or as the short breaks in between tasks.

One thing that I find myself asking is whether or not what I’m doing could be better done at a different time. If not, there’s no time like the present! And if so, we readjust. For example, say it’s the weekend and I’m trying to figure out what to do when Sawyer rests in his room. Laundry is a dumb option, because I can do that while I’m hanging out with him while he plays. Cleaning the bathrooms can be a pain when he is up, since he follows me around or constantly interrupts, so that is a better fit. Reading a book that requires all of my attention would be a good choice, too. As a whole, what needs to be done immediately? And of those things, what is the most important? What is option? What is not?

Maximize Your Time
It wasn't until I had Sawyer that I really started looking at my time as such a precious commodity. It was then that I started really maximizing the few minutes I had here and there to really increase my productivity. Five minutes to spare? Unload the dishwasher. Ten minutes? Read a few pages or grade two essays. There are plenty of mindless tasks that you can do here and there to reduce the workload when you'd usually do things. Every night I try to wipe down the kitchen or sweep while my slow little eater finishes. Or while Sawyer is picking up his toys at night I try to fold a load of laundry or throw up an almost-ready blog post (hiiiii!). 

A few things I try to remember:
Not everyone is like me; my husband never makes to-do lists and doesn’t feel an overwhelming drive to constantly be productive. I may not understand it, but I have to respect it.

Sometimes you have to abandon the to-do list and calendar, and that’s okay.

Even if there are things that weren’t done, what did happen? What did you get to cross off the list? Those things should be celebrated.

My efficiency isn’t just for tasks I don’t enjoy or feel obligated to do; there is plenty of space for seeing friends, my hobbies, and my family.

It has taken my over three decades to have systems in place; there’s always room to grow and ways to improve.  

Good luck!

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