Saturday, May 17, 2008

Time Wrangler

Time management is a struggle, but without at least a semblance of order, I could easily spend so much time trying to figure out how to fit everything in, that I actually get nothing done.

Back in November of 2006, I took a new job with a large EPC firm whose engineering staff was headquartered in Corpus Christi. Nothing unusual about that, people change jobs all the time. The kicker is I live in Oklahoma, which is a bit too far to commute. They had no branch offices to speak of in my area, so we worked it out for me to conduct all of my business from home.

The first couple of months were pure hell. It’s hard to leave your work at the office when your office is in your living room. I’d flit from project to project, specifying instrumentation, designing control systems, helping various family members with things that were more convenient for me to handle since I was at home during the day, writing and knocking out home improvement projects to boot. I’d find a good stopping point on one and bounce to the other. On a typical day, I’d get up at 5, run myself ragged and crash about 10 (more often than not, it leaned closer to 11) at night. Granted my output was through the roof, but my sanity was in peril for the efforts.

I’ve never been one for a written schedule. To me it is just a really easy way to set yourself up for failure. I don’t like to fail and have a tendency to beat myself up over it when I do. That would not be conducive to creating a more balance day and would likely be even more detrimental to my fragile mental health. But I had to do something, because what I had wasn’t working.

So, I brought structure to my life with a mental check list and daily goals that were attainable. I’m adding times to the list below, but keep in mind that from 6:30 on they are fluid and subject to change depending on the demands of the day. And to be fair, the list reflects a day without any disasters.

I still drag my sorry butt out of bed at 5 during the week, but now as soon as my feet hit the floor, I’m in my workout clothes and on my way. Every other day, I jog with my wife and on the alternate days, I lift weights and practice my forms (martial arts), but I limit my exercise to one hour a day. A quick side note here to say, that it has gradually increased to the point where I had to put a limit on it. I blew out my Achilles tendon in a sparring match nearly two years ago and it has taken me forever to get back into good enough shape to sustain an hour workout.

By roughly 6:30 I’m at my computer, checking email (both personal and business) and preparing my blog posts for the day. After I’m caught up, I usually take a moment to stroll through my blogroll for new posts. Then I work on the day job checklist until 7:30 when my son comes down from his morning grooming routine. I continue to work, but still make time to chat with him and make sure he’s ready for his day. I save the routine work stuff for this time of morning, so I can focus on what he has to say while I type. These are the things that I’ve done so long, they no longer really require thought. My mind’s on my son, my fingers know what to do with the business agenda.

From 8 to 11 my primary focus is the day job. I’ll still answer emails, but I try to take them in groups, only checking it every thirty minutes or so. I have three computers at my desk (and yes, I’ve been known to have something going on all of them at once, can you say the king of multitasking?). My personal one, my company laptop and a laptop whose sole purpose is to provide me remote access to control systems in different states so I might do programming and design work. Often once I set a routine in motion, I have several minutes while I wait for it to execute. I use this time to catch any blogs I might have missed earlier.

From 11 to 12 I either write or work on promotion depending on the day or the status of my current WIP.

12 to 4 finds me back at the complex calculations. I have to be wrapped up by then because that’s when my son comes home from school.

After that, I help him with his homework on the days he has it and try to catch his ear long enough to find out how his day was before he scampers off to play with his friends. Then I usually get a good fifteen to twenty minutes of writing time in before I have to start dinner. My wife comes home at 5 and we chat in the kitchen while I finish preparing the meal. I cook and she helps clean up the dishes afterward. It’s a good system.

After dinner, I just spend time with my wife and son until around 7 when the reality shows dominate the TV. Wife occupied with Dancing with the Stars, Survivor or whatever has caught her fancy that evening, I write (or read if I’m between projects) until 9. Then well… I think I’ll leave it off there.

Oh and Thursdays are a special day. That’s when I get to add laundry into the mix. I hate laundry days…

As you can see, it’s still a rather full schedule, so I’ve had to limit “favors” to absolute emergencies. Family and friends all know better at this point than to even ask. I may be at home, but I’m still working.

The weekends are all about hanging out with my family. Sure, I still manage to get some writing done, but generally it’s all about blowing off steam and having fun.

And this is how I’ve managed to salvage most of my sanity.

7 comments:

  1. Yay, Mr. Mom! Yep, that's pretty much how my day used to be only with a few more kids.

    Sounds like you have it down.

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  2. lol, that's me. :D I think it is a good system, for now anyways.

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  3. Bowing in awe at your magnificence! You're wayyyyy better at this than I am. And I don't even cook!

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  4. I don't have a time management but still somehow everything gets done!

    I think I must have a genie helping me from out there somewhere...

    But there is one thing that I do & that is prioritize & organize, which really helps me in saving a lot of time & also getting a lot done in least possible time. I have a general routine too, but most of my work though unplanned, gets done to near perfection.
    I think I must be auto programmed :D
    Perhaps my greatest gift is my memory ( everyone at home says that they are RAM while I am the hard disk) :D

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  5. lol, thanks, Cindy. Like I said, it took a while, but I'm pretty happy with the balanced feel I have now.

    That's cool, Mona. It sounds like you've been blessed with subconscious time management skills. :D

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  6. I was out of town on family stuff and I'm just now getting to check in. WOW...my mind is blown and I'm TARD just reading your insanely busy yet well maintained schedule. Ummm....just a tad jealous here, James!!! An hr. workout a day? Okay...I haven't done anything like that in umm...about 20 YEARS!!! lol. Funny how we somehow manage to find a system that works. With careful planning and attention to detail you manage it all. Taking the weekend off, too, is a great idea!

    Hugs...and sorry I'm late chiming in!

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  7. No worries, Regina and no need to be jealous. As I said, it took me a long time to get back to this kind of a workout schedule. :D

    Taking the weekends off is almost a must when you're staying busy, otherwise you risk burning out in at least one, if not all areas of your life. :D

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