In Challenge four, we went through our brain dump list and scheduled anything that had a specific date attached to it. We also blocked out time for self-care, and set time according to our priorities, with margin built in. Don’t forget, if you’d like to join in on the discussion, join our Facebook Group.
If you have any empty time on your calendar for the week, go through and assign it a priority- husband, kids, job, home, etc… Don’t forget to put in adequate time for errands and shopping, meal planning and food preparation for every meal you fix at home.
All of your time should be blocked out to a priority except time for sleep and margin. For me, that means my day is blocked out from the time the kids leave for school (because we have a morning routine that doesn’t change to get them out the door) until after dinner’s dishes are done, Monday to Friday. Weekends except some calls for my job are left free for family projects or in-home parties/events for my business.
If at all possible, leave thirty minutes on Sunday afternoon or evening open for a quick calendar exercise. But I highly recommend you take the rest of Sunday off unless it’s an ox-in-the-ditch type of situation like laundry due to a stomach virus in the house. Everyone needs a break, even mama. Break out the paper plates on Sundays, eat leftovers and give yourself some desperately needed rest. We love Sunday afternoons for family time and complete rest. Plan on completing your important work during the week, and take one down day each week to relax and recharge. It isn’t lost time, it’s happy mama time because mama’s brain and body needs a break, too.
Well Begun, Half Done
Go through your brain dump list and look for the simple projects that are half-completed or more, except for things on your job. Items already in progress that would take you less than 2-3 hours to complete and get off of your plate. Place those in your calendar, according to their category. It is very motivating to get those projects in progress completed.
I create a category on my to do list that is called ‘scheduled.’ This allows me to have a place to store those line items, and check them off as they are completed. When I schedule things, I move them to that category.
I don’t recommend you do this for your job. I recommend you strictly work on projects via due date for your business, so you don’t accidentally miss a due date and have a problem with co-workers or your boss. However, if your job is reasonably flexible or you don’t have any pressing deadlines, go ahead and work the half-completed projects first.
Consistent Work for Ongoing Projects
If you have a long-term project with weekly, monthly or quarterly hard deadlines, such as filing taxes, committee reports or teaching a class, schedule in the needed amount of time each week to get those things done. If your calendar offers it, you can set that time block to automatically repeat weekly or monthly, as you need it. I use Cozi as my calendar application and it works very well for repeat scheduling. I spend two hours on financials and taxes once a week to do the household budget, pay bills and to scan and record tax deductible receipts and work on the 2014 taxes.
If you are behind on this commitment, such as you know April 15th is coming for taxes and you have a lot to do to be ready, take that time block to consistently work on the project weekly (daily or monthly) to get caught up. If you’re seriously behind, allot and extra hour or two each time or create a second time block during the week on a different day to work on it, as well.
After all, when it comes to doing your taxes, working on it 3 hours a week for the next three months sounds far more appealing than an 40 hour marathon that starts April 5th. You’ll also be less prone to make mistakes from exhaustion (or your eyes crossing from looking at numbers) with the small, consistent bites.
Figure out how much time you’ll need to complete each project and add 20-25%. If I think a single task is going to take an hour, I block out an hour and 15 minutes for it. If I think a full project is going to take 10 hours, I schedule 12 for it over the course of the week or two. That allows for set up, clean up or something taking longer than you anticipated. If you begin to notice you’re consistently over- or under-estimating how long each project would take, adjust accordingly.
If a project is going to take more than one day’s block for a priority, I divide it between days to ensure it gets finished before moving on.
Set It Down, Walk Away
It is SO freeing to know you can set a project down and walk away, even a big one where you’re really far behind, instead of burning yourself out on marathon sessions. If you’re really behind, schedule two work blocks during the week instead of one, until you are caught up, then move to one block a week to stay caught up.
What normally happens? People get behind and pull a marathon to get caught up. But then they make themselves sick of it, and they allow themselves to get behind again because they have burnt themselves out. It becomes a vicious cycle of dreading this HUGE project, avoiding it until the last minute, doing a marathon to get caught up, then letting themselves fall behind again. This style of scheduling breaks this cycle.
You can do ANYTHING for one hour once a week. Set the timer and get moving on it. Blast loud music, sing at the top of your lungs, dance around the house, do whatever you have to do to convince yourself to make that one hour productive, then walk away from it until you have it scheduled again. I will readily admit to blasting music and singing along while I scan and file tax receipts and do the deep cleaning, two of the necessary chores I hate the most. You will gradually move yourself out of burn-out mode and into consistently staying caught up if you are consistent and stick to your calendar.
Next, once your half-completed and ongoing projects are scheduled, sort everything remaining in your brain dump into categories named:
- Big Deal
- It Can Wait A Bit
- Some Day
- Shopping Lists
So you have seven categories in all, as ‘Brain Dump’ and ‘Scheduled’ are also categories. For each brain dump item, move them into one of these categories. If you’re doing this on paper, you might want to place the numbers one to four beside them to help you sort before re-writing the lists.
Try to only place one or two items from each priority into Big Deal. This helps to cut down on the amount of overwhelm you’re feeling. Look at your list and really pick out what is most important, most pressing and start there. Even though it can feel like it, especially on your job, not everything is top priority. Pick the items with the closest due dates for your job.
If your program allows for sub-projects or headers within your categories, take all components of an item and group them together. For example, the living room remodel you are planning might be under ‘It Can Wait A Bit,’ and you might have ‘buy paint’ and ‘pick out new lamps’ both as part of that project in the sub-group.
For shopping lists, you can further break them down by store or project. For groceries, I keep a running list of everything we normally purchase in each store, and check or uncheck it as we need it or buy it without ever archiving completed items. That makes it quick and easy to add things to the shopping list and review it before shopping day. But I also have shopping lists that require items to be budgeted in or future planning, so I have two types of lists going under the shopping category.
One Week of Work
Now that you have everything sorted, return to your Big Deal category and see if you have any remaining time in the week in which to begin scheduling out your top priorities. If your Big Deal projects are something big, like ‘pack up the house to move,’ then you need to break that down into small increments. Each bite gets its own line item and time allotment. A good example would be:
Pack Up The House
- Pack up non-essential dishes and small appliances in the kitchen
- Pack up the out of season clothes for the kids
- Sort through in-season clothing for Goodwill donations
- Clean out the pantry and donate excess food to the food bank
- Pack up the dining room china and serving dishes
- Buy paper plates, cups, forks and spoons
- Pack up the pictures on the walls
- Pack up the knick-knacks
Now take each item in the order they should be completed in and schedule time for it for this week (don’t forget your extra 20%!) until your time blocks are full. Move the scheduled items to the ‘scheduled’ category. Once your week is full, leave the rest of the project in the Big Deal category and allow it to sit until next week. Only consider scheduling time that is set aside for margin if you have too much work to possibly accomplish up against a hard deadline.
I Don’t Know Where to Start
If one week is too much for you, just schedule out today or maybe two or three days. Schedule it all according to your priority list. The point of this isn’t to overwhelm you and make you feel like you’re behind, but instead of help you see clearly what your priorities are, what your deadlines are and where your time and attention should best be focused. It is a tool, not a slave-driver. Make it work for you.
Coming up, I’ll talk about making this system fit around kids with their unpredictable demands, show you how to back-engineer projects, do a daily brain dump, how to organize weekly going forward, and more.
Photo credit- From Chaos to Order by Sebastien Weirtz on Flickr