Friday, September 9, 2011

The Time Management Problem

The older I get, especially now that I'm certainly closer to death than I am to birth, I have come to realize that time is our most important asset, and our most nonrenewable resource.

At work I'm currently trying to close or offload all my study, design, and construction projects so that I can be a full time trainer. We've grown to the size where I should be spending almost all of my time on training. Yet, I have these nagging projects that just won't go away or won't resist coming to closure. Today I'll be dealing with four projects that fall in that category.

In addition, I'm planning a new training course that I’ll teach at brown bag sessions stretched out over three or four months, between 5 and 8 sessions. Plus I'm working on two of the three papers I'll present at a conference in February (the third is done). Plus I have to make presentations to two different engineering groups on Sept 26 and Sept 27. Plus I'm trying to write some standard specs and change some standard details. It's a lot of small balls I'm trying to keep in the air, every now and then catching one and tossing it in a nearby basket. Except if I miss the basket the ball comes back for more juggling.

So what I'm finding is I don’t do multiple task management as well as I used to. Twenty years ago I would have been bored if I didn’t have fifteen tasks to juggle each day. Now four or five prevents me from adequately focusing on any of them. So I spend a little time on one, see that I can’t really finish it, or even take it to the next level closer to completion, so I shift to another one with the same result, then to another one, etc. By the end of the day I’ve worked on ten tasks, got a few things done, but feel incredibly unsatisfied with my performance. Some days are better, but still nothing is getting closed.

With writing it seems to be the same as with engineering, except maybe I'm doing a better job at compartmentalizing. On a typical weekday, I spend 15 to 20 minutes working through my Harmony of the Gospels. This might not seem like much, but since this is a non-commercial project, one that is more for my own benefit than for selling, I can't justify a lot of time. And the type of stuff I'm doing on it now is easily done in small junks of time. Then I spend 15 to 20 minutes in the letters of John Wesley. I consider this research/development for future writings. Again, what I’m doing right now—formatting volume 6 of the letters—is easily done in small chunks of time.

Other free time at the office is mainly dedicated to writing research. Sometimes I read agent/editor/writer blogs. Sometime I research books similar to mine, sometime I do hard research into any number of things. Occasionally I'll read something about the art and craft of writing.

At home, dedicated hours for dedicated tasks is harder to set up. This week has been good. I get home about 6:15 PM, finish eating by 7:15 PM, either walk for half an hour or watch TV while multitasking (maybe a crossword). At 8:00 PM I go downstairs to The Dungeon, and am there till close to 11 PM. During that time I write, review what I wrote the day before, work on coordinating plot elements, perhaps do a little research, and take as much of that time as possible to work on my most prominent work-in-progress, currently In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. For the last month and a half this has been working, as the book has gone from 26,500 words on August 2 to 57,600 now. I would say my net actual writing time for the last three days has been about an hour and 15 minutes each day, and my production was 4,400 words. Those aren’t polished words, finished words, but they probably aren't too bad.

But, in all of the above, I have not once mentioned blogging. That has suffered. I went from 3 times per week updates for this blog to about once per week. My other blog, my "official" writing blog, is about the same. I'm going to try to improve on the during the rest of September, but carving out the time to think about a post, draft it, proof it, edit it, and actually publish it has been difficult.

Bare with me, loyal readers. I will return to more frequent posting, once I get my time resources in better working order.


Gary said...

So how much time do you spend documenting your productivity? OK, that was somewhat snarky, but OTOH is it worth the bookkeeping effort?

David A. Todd said...

Well, I've got to write about something.

At work, it is absolutely worth it to log my activities, calls, e-mails, etc. More than once having that data on hand helped me prepare for lawsuits, either when we were being sued or a client was being sued.