I used to be organized

I used to be organized. I used to be able to keep track of things. I used to know what needed to be done next. I used to be able to juggle multiple projects without dropping it, well not much of it. Then I went back to work and now I just feel lost all the time. I have a million things to do and don’t know where to start.

Back when I was at home I had one task, take care of my family. Within that task I did a lot of different things and occasionally branched beyond that one task but the bulk of my time and energy went into my number one priority, my family. Today my family is still my number one priority but they don’t get the largest chunk of my time anymore and deciding which of the many activities necessary to care for a family and home get top priority once I punch out at the end of the day is overwhelming.

Is the most important thing to help my kids with homework? Make dinner? Do the laundry? Date with my hubby? What about extended family and friends? What about me? Most of the time what I really want to do is plan my escape. It seems like too much.

Being organized when you work is not like being organized when you are at home. At home my days flowed easily from one thing to the next. The tasks would often mix together, I would go back and forth from one to the next. Making dinner while helping my daughter with homework, doing the laundry while on the phone with a friend, back and forth to the washer and dryer throughout the day between or in the midst of many different tasks. In the kitchen I might find items that belonged in the office, bathroom and my daughters bedroom. During my deliveries I would find items in each of those rooms that belonged in other rooms which I would pick up. In and out of tasks adding and subtracting as I went through the day.

Now that I work I find there is just not a lot of flow. Some tasks still flow together, I still make dinner during homework. But mostly I have realized that I can’t keep track of things anymore if I let them flow together. I don’t live in one world anymore I live in 2 worlds. I live in my work world and in my home world. I realize I need to compartmentalize a little more.

Lately I have been reading about time blocking. I am still learning to understand but I would say time blocking is blocking out a chuck of time in your day for a specific task. There is a slight nuanced difference between time blocking and time management. Time management is more about keeping track of appointments, meetings and other quantifiable activities within your day. Time blocking is more about blocking off periods of your day for accomplishing your own tasks.

Within a work environment this might look like scheduling a meeting in your outlook calendar in which you are the only attendee so that you can work on a project without risk that someone will take that time for their meeting or help with their project. At home time blocking might help you get in a daily work out.

One interesting take I read on time blocking discussed the idea of simply blocking out the tasks of your day rather than the time. So instead of saying you are going to work out at 6am every day you simply commit to working out every day as a calendar event. The problem with saying 6am is if your kids have you up all night or you are out of town at a meeting or your alarm doesn’t go off, you miss that scheduled window for the day and therefore miss the work out. If instead you simply block off the activity, plan to spend an hour working out each day, then it doesn’t matter if you do it at 6am or 9pm as long as it is accomplished.

I am definately still learning to master time blocking but so far I am finding it to be helpful in increasing my productivity and decreasing my stress level. Here are a few things I have tried:

I have blocked a homemaking task into each day of the week. Monday is laundry, Tuesday is dusting, Wednesday is floors, etc. Some tasks take more time than others but each task is very doable in any given day. And I am finding that because I have these tasks on a weekly rotation, if I don’t get to them this week I know I will have another chance next week. Without a plan it felt like the bathroom was never getting cleaned. Now I know it will get cleaned on Friday. So if I don’t have time to clean up the toothpaste in the sink today I know it will get done in due time. I would have hated this system when I was a homemaker but I am loving the freedom it gives me as a working mom.

At work I have a large and very tedious project sitting in a corner. I could wait until someone thinks it is an emergency and then spend days going insane with the detail of this project but instead I have blocked off 1-2 hours each day to spend getting this task caught up and will continue to assign an hour or so a week to maintaining the sytem once it is in place. Doing it in smaller chunks and seeing the pile shrink keep me motivated.

Recently I committed to a task that took me 20 minutes for 7 days. I time blocked this task into my day. Although I did it at approximately the same time each day, I didn’t assign it a specific time. If I had then I would have begun to worry each day about whether I would be ready or not when the time was nearing, I would rush, panic and end up flustered. And if I had a deadline that couldn’t be put off I would have ended up skipping the task. Knowing I had committed to doing it each day meant that I was prepared to do it at 9pm if necessary but not being tied to a specific time I was able to work my way through the priorities of the day and did it every afternoon without worrying about lining up all my tasks perfectly.

What new time management techniques have you learned recently?

I came accross this book by Glynnis Whitwer called, “I Used to be So Organized”. Somebody who understands me! I haven’t read it yet but it sounds great and I have heard Glynnis speak so I am sure it is great. Definately adding it to my reading list.