Time After Time: What I LEARNed from a Self Experiment on Time Management
This blog post is part of a new series called Working Smarter: Everyday CLA techniques to help you be more productive. The goal of the series is to share practical ways to integrate collaborating, learning, and adapting into your work.
The LEARN team recently had a timesheet training and ever since the training I’ve had “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper stuck in my head. For the past week, I’ve been singing this song in the shower, on my walk to work, and as I cook dinner. Naturally, this has led me to think about how I’m actually spending my time (ironically a good chunk of it recently has been dedicated to singing this song). Some days I feel like I can actually follow the 5 hour golden rule and have enough time to dedicate to intentional learning and reflecting. Though, most days I feel like I look at the clock and my face looks like a bit like this. Does anyone else feel the same?
In order to understand what was going on, I started to monitor how I was actually using my time (as opposed to how I planned to use my time). I evaluated the results, learned some new things about myself and my productivity style, and adapted my practice. (MERL in action!) Here’s what I found:
I noticed that I do too much and think too little. I tend to spend my days zooming through my checklist, scurrying from task to task, always organizing something, making a call, running an errand, etc. Does anyone else feel me on that one?
What I learned: “Staying busy” does not equal “working hard.” The constant need to “do something” is what often leads to a tendency I noticed within myself to waste time on menial tasks.
How I changed: I started prioritizing 2-3 essential tasks I needed to complete each day and giving those tasks my undivided attention when I was working on them. After I’d complete them, I’d deliberately give myself time for stillness. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that it’s during those moments of stillness that I have most of my lightbulb moments. It’s working smarter, not working harder.
I noticed I that I say “yes” to everything. Need help writing that report? Need someone to walk your dog while you’re on vacation? Need someone to change your tire? Yes! I’m your girl! Though, sorry, I don’t actually know how to change your tire. (Backstory: I saw the movie Yes Man during my sophomore year of college and it had a profound effect on me.)
What I learned: I took the “yes man” concept too far. I noticed that anytime someone on my team asked me, “can you help me with…?” I never actually said the word, “no.” Of course, I love my team members so I want to support them. That’s what being on a team is all about! But saying “yes” to everything often means I get behind on managing my own time and checking off my ‘essential tasks’ for the day. Not to mention, I become more stressed, flustered, and don’t have nearly enough time for exercise and sleep.
How I changed: I learned how to say “no.” I realized that I was actually doing more for my team by learning how to decline opportunities because when I make time for the things that I know I have time for and that I truly care about, I’m a better colleague and person to be around. Most importantly, when I can identify excess in my life and remove it, I become more in touch with what is significant and what deserves my time.
I noticed that my desk is a mess. Since I joined the LEARN team, my learning curve has been steep. I made an intentional effort to obsessively document my observations, ideas, questions, goals, learnings, and mistakes (it’s how I learn!). But now my desk is covered in hand drawn scribbles. I wish I could say it’s “organized chaos” but really it’s just “chaos.”
What I learned: The majority of my learning moments happen as I’m actually working. However, I only actually truly learn them and internalize them when I go back and review my process and digest my notes.
What I changed: I created a system for my scribbles. Now every time I have a conversation, go to a meeting, have an idea, or make a list (even if I think it’s insignificant at the time and even if it’s on a napkin), I scan it and upload it to my personal drive. I call it my “work diary.” Now that it’s all in one place, I find that I’m naturally going back to look at my notes on the regular. This has been a huge time saver! I also try to share my learnings widely across my team and the field through visual note-taking.
I noticed that I push my ideas and dreams to the bottom of my checklist. Does anyone else do this, too?
What I learned: I realized that I only ever lament over “not having enough time” when I’m not giving enough time to the things I truly care about. The truth is, I have more than enough time. I have just as much time as Albert Einstein and Rupi Kaur. It’s how I’m using my time that’s the problem. Instead of asking myself how can I have more time to do the things I enjoy, I started asking myself, how can I spend more time enjoying what I’m doing?
What I changed: I know for myself that I enjoy brainstorming, solving riddles, and doing visual art. With much kudos to my team, I started finding ways to merge my creative dreams with my MERL work. Left brain say hello to right brain. To make sure I didn’t lose track of my ideas or dreams when those overlaps weren’t possible, I started doing what Ed Boyden refers to as “logarithmic time planning.” (Don’t worry, it sounds a lot more intense than it actually is.) It’s scheduling things in the near future with finer resolution and scheduling things in the distant future with less detail. That has allowed me to set aside chunks of time in the near and distant future to give my dreams the time they deserve.
And that’s a wrap! Just a note that these tips work for me, but they might not work for everyone. I hope at the very least after making it through this blog, you’ve now got Cyndi Lauper’s, “Time After Time” stuck in your head! There’s a toe-tapping tune for you as you start your morning.