Coming up with a solid time management plan for chaos abatement has long been Carson’s priority. Like most caring and capable women, Carson is asked to do a lot. Plus, as a lover of life, she has a variety of interests. Currently, she is a non-profit builder, blogger, and mom of three. Like another busy mom featured in this series, Kim, Carson is a writer, has three children and uses Google Calendar. But, because the ages of their children and professional needs are different, their time management systems beyond GCal are unique.
Describe your current time management system: its components, how it works, how it came to be, why it works and what’s good about it.
My calendar: I started using Google calendar many years ago when I needed to know my kids’ commitments as well as mine to be able to manage my time. “Can Sarah have a playdate next Tuesday with me?” and “Can I do a meeting Thursday afternoon?” were unanswerable if I could not see the paper calendar on my fridge. Also, I found it annoying that my husband would ask me about or try to make plans without being able to see the fridge. He read about Google calendar, which was new at the time, and set it up for me, and we have never looked back.
Each member of the family has a different color. And, now that the kids are teens and beyond, it is their responsibility to put things in the calendar for themselves, at least where it affects whether they are home for dinner and/or whether parental transportation is involved.
My planning process: I do a list of yearly goals in a Word table at the beginning of the Jewish year. I compare it with what I wrote the year before to see how I did. These include “typical” categories like work and health, but also relationships and fun.
My mom gave me a 12″ square pad that can be used like a daily planner (there’s an hourly section). But it’s mostly just a BIG sheet of paper. My sister uses hers to map out the day for her housekeeper/babysitter. I use one sheet a month to list goals by category, and tally how many I got done at the end of the month, usually about 60%.
Looking at a few months at a time, I realized I was consistently neglecting the “nurturing me” stuff (surprise surprise) and a work category where my contacts are generally out of town (too often, out of mind). Reordering the categories on the page was the first thing to change, and that alone made a difference. Now, I keep 2 months set up in an effort to be more realistic about what I can do in one month. Before I would just write down the goals as they occurred to me. But something that comes up, say, in January, might not really be likely to get done till February. Now I write that on Feb’s sheet instead of January, and won’t feel bad about copying so many undone things from Jan to Feb.)
Time to reflect, regroup, and plan is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. I started blocking out Monday mornings for this. It works well IF I also spend part of Sunday organizing my piles. They don’t distract me and tempt me to just “get this one thing done so I can clear that paper off.” You have to know yourself.
My task management is still evolving. Google Calendar has a “Tasks” feature, but it didn’t sync well from phone to Mac, so I now use a paper notebook and Evernote. Evernote lets me easily keep separate lists for birthday gift ideas, ToDos, books I might want to buy, notes from meetings, etc. I even have a list of things I’ve said “no” to!
I also have an email folder “Do Now” and another one “Do soonish.”
Here is my latest experiment: End the day by checking tomorrow’s calendar, the email DoNows, the Evernote ToDos, and the paper ToDos, and choose 2 things that I really really want to get done the next day. Then shut down the screens and read (books) or watch TV for at least half an hour before I fall asleep. [Note from Stacy: Carson is using a strategy similar to the one suggested in the book Deep Work that is intended to increase your willpower and your brain’s capacity to focus.] I am trying to model for my teenage son not letting screens mess with your sleep. Then when I wake up, the day’s priorities and schedule are fresh-ish in my mind. So far, not a miracle but better.
How does your system fall short? What aspects of it could be improved?
I wish I could move emails into my ToDo list – since I use Gmail you’d think they’d have thought of that. Priority setting and focus continue to be a challenge. You can highlight tasks in Evernote, and I can choose to store emails in “Do Now” or in “Do soonish.” But figuring out what is the most productive thing I can do right now still requires a lot of toggling, and I feel suboptimized pretty often.
I also don’t think I get all I can out of Evernote: I would love to be able to attach emails and documents but I have not learned that yet. And, what if your phone dies or you have no wifi?
Finally, another challenge I have is that many of my “jobs” and their goals can expand to fit any given amount of time. Goes double for motherhood, and triple for caring for a parent (because they only become less independent). Perfectionist tendencies amplify the problem. I have tried the timer approach for this. Pomodoro is famous but I use a free app called Howler that lets you customize your timer alarm. It’s not a miracle but it helps me give myself permission to “just do this one thing for now” and say no to phone/email/other demands.
Read more about the series and how other real women manage their time by clicking here.