Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Time management spotlight: Daily Routines

One of the most valuable things I have done in my (neverending) quest to get un-scattered has been to create routines for myself for the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that need to happen for me to stay on top of my various projects. The first time I created a routine of this sort was when I worked in social services, and had to have an organized way of making sure 200 families and all their associated paperwork didn’t fall through any cracks. I found that a standard process for handling every case, as well as all the tasks I needed to handle in a typical day, kept me both accurate and efficient, and made that job as low-stress as it was ever going to be.

As I became converted to the wonders of the routine, I created ones for my non-work life, both before and after going to work. In some ways those early experiments with managing my time made this student ready for the day I was introduced to GTD. They are the key to my ability to manage all of my projects in my 20-odd areas of responsibility. If you don’t have routines automating your key projects, things will slip through the cracks, your most important self-improvement efforts will sputter to a halt, and you generally won’t be making the best use of your time. It’s back to David Allen’s exhortations to get the stuff out of your brain—just putting a repeat button on the action as you do.

How do you build a routine? Well, let’s say you have some things you’d like to take care of on a regular basis after work. You want to make time to pick up the house a little bit every evening so that you aren’t frantically moving piles into bedrooms the night before the in-laws visit. You need to hit the gym, there’s this book you’ve been meaning to finish, you’d like some sort of daily spiritual prayer/meditation practice—basically you want to curl up in bed knowing that you did more with your evening than fight household fires, call in pizza and stare at the TV for 4 hours. Get that stuff out of your head and into an action list—call it @evenings, or whatever you like. Keep it simple though—if you give yourself some 25-item, 3 hour ordeal to slog through every night after work, that’s a recipe for accomplishing nothing more useful than drinking 2 glasses of merlot and tipping the delivery guy. Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking. In fact, save the complex stuff for the weekends—if you accomplish a short, brainless list every day, you’ll have time to get to those things in a leisurely way on saturdays.

Here are my current daily routines to give you some ideas for getting started—also, do a search for "routines" at either Zen Habits, lifehack.com or lifehacker.com —all of those are great resources on the topic, and all have too many articles on the topic to cite individually. For specific ideas on creating routines for your housekeeping, I can’t recommend Flylady highly enough--she tends toward glurge, but the woman knows how to keep a house clean in the most efficient manner possible.

Morning Routine:
45 minutes cardio workout
Give the bathroom a once-over, including the cat litter
Change into work clothes, makeup, etc.

Commutes: Listen to my Chinese lessons and catch up on my podcasts

After work:
Start dinner
Tidy up two hot spots
Sweep whole house for rogue laundry, dishes, and papers.(Kevin actually does the dishes and laundry, for which I am eternally grateful...)
Today’s activity (could be my weekly cleaning routine, meetings for my non-profit board or other group, weights, date night w/ kevin, weekly baking, personal projects, etc.), then...


Pre-bed routine:
Give the kitchen a once-over, including trash if needed
Today’s deep clean Zone Chore
Put up Laundry
Lay out tomorrow’s clothes
Meditation practice (10 minutes)

BED at a sane hour! (for me, no later than 10:00 now that I’m getting up early…)

One last thing—These routines are goals, not scripture. I flop down on the couch, ask Kevin to hit the takeaway place on the way home, and veg out more evenings than I’d like to admit, and I probably only accomplish all this stuff (in the same day) about twice a month. However, I do most of it on most days, which is a lot better than if I didn’t have the routines at all. And I have enough on my plate as it is without berating myself for letting the trash can sit full in the kitchen for a day. I am not Martha Stewart, and I sure as hell ain’t a fitness guru. But I am interested in living a happy, ordered, moderate life, and my routines have been a handy tool in getting me there. I hope a system like this may be useful to you too.

Next Tuesday: Graduation is drawing near for our friends getting their MLIS degrees, and I’m going to talk about job hunting for librarians, complete with a sample project plan and links to some of the best career resources on the web. See you Thursday for RSS Digest!