I try a time-management experiment and get lots done

Insights on time management for work-at-home folks like me

On Saturday, as Erik and I were driving to San Jose for the family New Year’s dinner, I was griping yet again about how I never have enough time to do everything. It’s become an incessant whinge at this point, but Erik listened patiently (as he always does!). He asked how many hours’ worth of work I put on my daily to-do lists, and I said about six to eight. He said that for him, a good work day means a to-do list of about two to three hours’ work, since work expands to fill the time.

“People with ‘real jobs’ only get about that much work done every day anyway,” he explained.

“But that’s just it!” I burst out, realizing we’d found the heart of my time-pressure frustration. “At a job, you can only get in a few hours, because your time is taken up with stupid stuff like meetings. But I don’t have a boss to make me do these things! How come I’m still not able to work eight-hour days? Doesn’t it stand to reason, if I don’t have silly employer stuff to do, that I could have that whole nine-to-five day for my own projects?”

We talked about this some more, until we came to the following two conclusions. First, running the Etsy shop is a little like having an employer, because it requires me to do what Erik calls “work that isn’t work”: posting in the forums, being active in the blogosphere, taking product photos, etc. This stuff is all useful and is often enjoyable, but if I stopped doing all of it, the core work (crafting) would still need to be done: hence the “work that isn’t work” designation. It’s stuff I have to do on top of the core work. Second, I may not have to go to three-hour meetings, but I’ve managed to replace these with my own non-work activities: laundry, dishes, cooking, running errands. I started doing these during the workday because I don’t like leaving them for the evening, but I suppose they do eat into my work time just as much as meetings would.

After we figured this out, I decided to do an experiment this week. Every day, I’ll make a daily agenda (to-do list, if you prefer) comprising my top priorities for that day. From nine to five, I am only allowed to work on items from the agenda, and if I finish those, I’ll move on to items from my action lists. No dishes, no unnecessary cooking, no non-work errands; if I think of anything I must do, I’ll write it down and get to it in the evening. It’ll be like going to an office job, basically. Coincidentally, my office here at home has actually become more physically separated from the rest of the house, as of two days ago; because Tisha’s still got a drain coming out of his wound, I didn’t want him getting into my crafting area. So I’ve barricaded off one entrance to the office (who knew those giant storage bins would come in handy in this role?!) and shut the doors of the other, and now it really does feel like going to the office. I suspect this is actually helping me get more done.

Today’s results

So how did the first day of the experiment go? Today I made a six-item agenda, and in ten and a half hours, I got to everything on it. Not too shabby, though my day ended at 7:30 and Erik and I were both so tired we went out to eat instead of cooking. So I didn’t get any householdy things done… if this keeps up, I’ll soon be having household anxiety instead of work anxiety! I also did quick email checks during the day, which I said I wasn’t going to do, but I need some kind of stimulating two-minute break every so often… it’s either email, Minesweeper, or cookies. All terrible options! I’ve tried stretching, and I do need the stretch breaks, but they don’t take my mind off things the same way. Probably I should put Michael Jackson on my iPod and dance for three minutes, but Erik would hate that, and I hate ear buds. Well, I’ll think of something.

goth box inside My favorite time of day for working is always the morning. Ideally I’d start the day with some outdoor time — a walk or some gardening — then take about forty-five minutes to eat breakfast and do my morning pages, and then I’d work straight through till lunch. This morning I did exactly that. Erik and I went for a walk on the trails, where everything was so bright and dewy and filled with birdsong, it felt like the world had just been created. (Erik: “It was a lot hotter when the world was created.” Me: “True.”) After my pages, I started a new decoupaged box, and worked on that for an hour. It’s going to be all rainbow colors and patterns; so far it’s looking very cheerful and cacophonous!

I finished the black and purple “Goth box” yesterday, and I am utterly in love with it. For the center inside lid, I found an image of a shadowy room reflected in a round mirror, and it gives the whole interior a very mysterious feel; meanwhile, the ethereal flowers keep it from coming off too harsh. The box needs some more coats of Mod Podge and then sanding down, but it’s basically done. It’ll go into my Craft Happy inventory!

After the decoupaging, I did my weekly review, during which I discovered a note I’d written while on the train back from Fremont last week. Right after passing the Fruitvale station, I saw an incredible, slightly rundown old brick complex that would make a perfect model for a school or hospital in a graphic novel. I did a bit of online sleuthing, and discovered that it’s the St Joseph’s Professional Center in Oakland. I couldn’t find any good photos of it, but if you look up 2580 12th St, Oakland, in Google Maps street view, you’ll see a bad photo of the view that so captivated me. One of these days, I’ll drive out there and sketch or photograph the place.

Yesterday I sold the craft apron I made a couple of weeks ago, so this afternoon I sat down stormy rose cash apronand made another one. I discovered while selecting fabric for it that I don’t actually have very many appropriate-weight fabrics wide enough for these aprons, so I’ll have to figure something else out before I can make too many more.

I’m happy with the apron I made today, and really pleased with my decision to model it with a mustard linen skirt. It’s still hard for me to picture how pieces of fabric will look once they’re sewn into bags or aprons or pouches; when I took out this fabric, I was afraid it would look really old-fashioned and chintzy. I think you could still play it that way, but with more modern color combinations, I don’t think it looks outdated at all. It’ll look great with jeans too!

After making the apron, I sat down for some sketching and Inkscape/Photoshop time, hoping to finish the last images for my website revamp. I may be a better artist now, but it looks like a good self-portrait will still require time! I’ve revised my website launch date accordingly; I now think it’ll probably require at least until the end of the week. In the meantime, though, I’ll give you a preview: go here to see my new art page.

That’s it for today — looking forward to trying out another full work day tomorrow!