Sometimes people ask me how I get everything done: writing, planning, teaching, events, travelling, social media, research, meetings and anything else that comes into my working life, so I thought I’d blog about it. I don’t think I have a magic key – unless it’s called organisation.
I’m blessed with natural organisational abilities but I do organise consciously, i.e. it doesn’t just happen. My technique is pretty much what’s frequently referred to as ‘compartmentalising’ (and my mother called it ‘common sense’) but I think of it as ‘mental hotdesking’.
Mental hotdesking is my way of moving from task to task. In my mind I move from desk to desk. Each day I know what I need to do and what to prioritise so I allocate my time at my physical desk between the hotdesks in my mind. Here’s the framework I use:
Monday to Friday, I’m usually at my desk at around 7.15am and I leave it around 6pm. However, I give myself a break of about two hours : Monday piano lesson, Tuesday Zumba, Wednesday Yoga, Thursday FitStep and Friday Zumba again. Attached to a couple of those classes is about 40 minutes over a cuppa with my gym mates. I organise these daily outings because they’re good for my physical and mental health. If I work on Saturday or Sunday I organise my time around whatever else I want to do (often, watching whatever Formula 1 is on the TV) so there’s no set routine.
I think my mental hotdesking began when I was working with students for the London School of Journalism online. I had to find a way of keeping my pile of student assignments moving but, at the same time, not let them prevent me from writing. My solution was to divide my day, so mentally I’d be at my teaching hotdesk in the morning and my writing hotdesk in the afternoon.
Now I only teach occasional workshops or courses I have much larger chunks of time for writing (hooray!) but I’ve found it useful to continue to divide my day between mental hotdesks – I begin with emails and social media. If my Zumba class that day begins at ten then that leaves me with quite a small amount of time between my opening routine and leaving for the class. It doesn’t seem productive to go to my mental writing hotdesk as I know that I’m most effective when writing or editing if I have sizeable chunks of time in which to get immersed, so I look around for smaller tasks. This might mean writing a blogpost, following up on an interesting opportunity I’ve spied on Twitter or Facebook, reading newsletters that keep me up to date in what’s happening in publishing or maybe doing a small amount of research. NB Even if I don’t need to post a blog yet, I often use a small amount of time to write one and simply schedule it for a later date.
By allotting small tasks to short periods I’m free to go straight to my writing hotdesk when I have a larger chunk of time.
I try and make appointments at the beginning or end of working day so as to keep most of the day available and had to break off from writing this post to attend one.
Unfortunately … the appointment turns out to be tomorrow! Time management’s a useful skill to develop but it doesn’t prevent silly mistakes.