Okay so obviously I’m not about to tell you how to elongate your day, but I am about to tell you how I manage my time.
As an introduction, I’m James, I work full time as a Paralegal in a Law Firm. I find it really interesting and I honestly do enjoy my job. Along with this I study part time at Nottingham Law School, which is demanding, but I enjoy it. I also run this start-up, Tyfy.co, which is time consuming but, again, i love it.
You can see why I would consider myself qualified to talk to you about the topic of time management, then? I regularly make the joke that three of me would struggle with the amount of stuff I do.
I’m not a robot, I am in fact a human with mood swings, lazy days and most Friday nights you’ll find me singing along (badly) to the music in whichever Lace Market bar I’ve managed to find myself in.
Here are some tips on how a mere mortal like me manages their time to get the most done out of my day:
1. Be organised, but don’t be rigid.
I learnt this the hard way. In summer 2017 when I first started this website. At 3am one morning (whilst i should have been asleep) I scrawled out the words “third year, first year” on a piece of paper by my bed. After that, it took over my life.
For the following few months, this was my daily system:
- Wake up at 5 am,
- 5.30 am – Go for a run.
- 6am – Go to the gym.
- 7 am – Leave the gym and go back home.
- 9 am – Washed, breakfasted and sat at the communal desk in the Ingenuity Lab, strategically close to the coffee machine.
- 6pm – Accept defeat and walk home to my student flat in Lenton.
- 7pm – Feel bad for going home and proceed to sit at my desk in my room, strategically close to the beer fridge, until i fell asleep at around 10 pm.
Let me be very clear – I am not advocating this as a lifestyle.
Any idiot could tell you this is not sustainable, and it wasn’t. Sure, the website got built, I had a working prototype by the end of August. However this all led to a mild mental breakdown in the Autumn of 2017, wherein all work and productivity came to a crashing halt. I had burnt out.
This is the interesting part – Why did it happen then? Why not during the long days of solitude and no sunlight?
Well, it’s because I was being rigid, not organised.
This is an extreme example, but because I was up at 5, physically exhausted at 7 and already reliant on caffeine by 9, of course there was no way I was going to make the best use of my brain. I’d drawn myself up a system that if I didn’t keep to, I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough, so this is how I lived.
Here’s some old advice – work smart, not hard.
Now, i wake up at about 7.30, i get dressed, have breakfast and get to work for about 8:45. I feel bright and awake at work and when i get home i do some University work until about 7, then i send a few emails for the website until bed time at 10.
Much more manageable, see? Its organised, its structured, but it’s adaptable too. The main point to take away here is that I’m more effective, and getting more done, now than I ever was then.
Know your limits.
You are only human, so you need structure and discipline in order to be effective. However, know your limits and structure your time around what you need to achieve, not what you need to achieve around whatever time you have. Don’t do what i did and wake up at 5 for the sake of it. Never lose track of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
2. Break it down before it breaks you down.
Over the weekend I ran in to an old friend at the Ingenuity Lab, Paul. We have a brief chat about how things were going, and he remarked that sometimes he’d get so into a task that he’d have to stop and say “Wait… what was i actually doing?”.
Sounds familiar, right?
This is me all over. As an example, I got so invested in making the perfect letter-headed template for a letter I was sending out to a client in 2017, that I actually forgot to send the letter. I’m not kidding.
Here’s how I fixed it – a friend of mine from work uses a list system.
“Oh wowzers he’s suggesting a to-do list what a revelation“
HEAR ME OUT. This isn’t just a to-do list, I find those too long, and not intuitive enough. It’s also not a “wake up in the morning and write down all your hopes and dreams” list either because, like, who’s that alert in the mornings?
What I do is like this:
It breaks down not only what I need to do, but also Why I’m doing it (on the right). Why is the critical part – this is what actually gets it done.
Example: If I’m honest, I wasn’t very motivated to write this blog post. I haven’t written anything in years, and I don’t like writing about personal experiences. The Why made me do it, the Why to build up content for the website, improve our recognition in the business school and maybe help somebody like 2017 James avoid burning out quite so spectacularly as I did.
I find having a working document with your long term goals and short term tasks next to each other keeps your mind and day structured.
In part two next week, we’ll build on the practical tips and tricks of how i manage my time.
I’ll see you then, but in the mean time remember you’re just human.