Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Theme Days: A way to organize time

Ever get the feeling that you just can’t keep up with all the stuff you need to do? That there’s so much ditz to cope with that you can’t get to the important things, but if you do the important stuff first, then there’s no time left to deal with the steadily mounting pile of ditz? Lately, I’ve felt my life is out of kilter because I don’t organize my time well enough to keep up with all the challenges,  chores, and commitments that fill my days to overflowing.

Yesterday I worked from four in the morning to nine at night, with one break to fiddle with the pool equipment, one break to reheat some leftovers for a midmorning breakfast, and…and that was it. When I could no longer type another word or edit another confused sentence, in came an e-mail from the client expressing his wonder that I hadn’t edited two other documents he was in a hurry to get. It was almost 10:00 p.m. before I got up from my desk and stumbled into the kitchen to fix dinner.

Lists have always worked pretty well for me. But recently the sense of being utterly overwhelmed has left me too flummoxed to write lists. What to put at the top of the list? And how to get through all the things that need to be done? And when the stuff on today’s list doesn’t get finished (because there’s just too darned much to do in 12 or 14 hours), what gets lost from tomorrow’s list?

My lists sink beneath an ocean of too-damn-many-things-to-do-at-once.

Lately it has occurred to me that instead of compiling endless lists of tasks to plow through, it would make better sense to devote blocks of time to working on one general type of activity. Anything that didn’t fall into that category would be put off to some other block of time, which would be dedicated to a different kind of activity. “Blocks of time” would be restricted to whole days and half days. Theme Days and Theme Half-days.

On a theme day, all I would work on is projects related to the specific theme. And quite a few themes come to mind.

For example: I need to spend a fair amount of time on freelance projects. Right now, that work gets stuffed in around the many other things that need to get done, and it often suffers because something I perceive as more urgent gets pushed forward. Before long, I’ve fallen behind on the editorial work and then find myself laboring, bleary-eyed and fuzz-brained, to finish a late project—at midnight or one in the morning! The quality of the work suffers, and so do I.

So let’s suppose that instead of resolving (vaguely) that I must get to thus-and-such a project tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow, and so on to infinity…), I had a Copyeditor’s Desk Theme Day. What would happen on such a theme day? Or on any other theme day?

Copyeditor’s Desk Day: Read the current client’s manuscripts, proof detective novels, index page proofs; hustle business

Teaching Day: Prepare for classes, meet classes, read student papers, enter grades & attendance, communicate with students online

Cleaning Day: Do laundry, clean house, wash the car, clean out the garage, organize closets

Shopping Day: Run around the city chasing down food and household necessities

Gardening Day: Clean up the yard, fiddle with the pool

Bookkeeping Day: Enter data in Excel & Quicken, reconcile bank accounts

Social Day: Hang out with friends, go out and do something fun

Choir Day: Sing

Blog Day: Write and schedule a bunch of posts, submit stuff to carnivals, host carnivals, study SEO and AdSense, learn more stuff

Some of these activities don’t require an entire day’s worth of effort at any given time. So a single day could consist of two Theme Half-days. Choir, for example, occupies the better part of Sunday morning but is over by about 11:30. Sunday could be a double-theme day, then: Choir Day and Shopping Day.

The to-do list would contain only tasks and goals related to the day’s theme, plus of course the basic survival chores. So a Sunday, to continue that example, would be mapped out with a list like this:

Breakfast
Feed dog
Walk dog
Church
Change clothes
Bolt snack-like lunch
Write shopping list
Go to Costco, Target, WalMart, Safeway, Trader Joe’s or Sprouts, AJ’s or Whole Foods, & Ace or Home Depot
Unload car, unwrap & repackage bulk items, and store purchases
Dinner
Feed dog
Walk dog
Read & answer e-mail
Check blog
Fall face-forward into bed

Other types of activities need only be done once a month or once every couple of weeks. Bookkeeping, a half-day project, can wait until all the bank statements are in hand and then be combined with some other activity that can be completed in half a day: light housecleaning, for example.

Some activities need to be done every day or nearly every day—but they may or may not need to occupy an entire day. These themes could be assigned to days as activities need to be addressed, and shifted as workload demands shift. Hence…

Saturday
Blogging, Socializing

Sunday
Choir, Cleaning

Monday
Copyediting, Teaching

Tuesday
Teaching (grade papers)

Wednesday
Gardening, Teaching

Thursday
Copyediting, Shopping

Friday
Blogging, Teaching

Saturday
Copyediting, Teaching

Here’s the beauty of this scheme: it eliminates the gestalt. The frantic, scattered Brownian motion-like activity that consumes every day is replaced with focus on a set of closely related tasks.

To-do lists are focused instead of impossible agglomerations of disparate jobs that are running late.

And they’re shorter. Anything that’s not related to the day’s theme doesn’t appear on the to-do list. That helps to rein in the sense that you have so many things to do that you don’t even want to get started.

I haven’t tried this plan yet, but starting tomorrow I’m going to.

Think it’ll work? Do you have a system that works for you?

Image: Alvesgaspar, Shepherd Gate Clock, Royal Observatory, Greenwich. GNU Free Documentation License. Wikipedia Commons.

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.

5 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed that some of the stay at home mom bloggers I like a lot tend to have a day scheduled for certain tasks and I’ve started doing that as well. Monday I work on office and financial chores, Tuesday I go do a sewing group in the morning but get all the laundry and ironing caught up in the afternoon. Wednesday is blogging day, Thursday I work on my Etsy and Amazon stores and Friday I work on Ebay stuff and chores in the kitchen. I must admit I run out of steam towards the end of the week, so rotating these ‘themes’ as you call them, to the first of the week might be a bit more productive for me. Hope your plans work out for you!

  2. Sounds like a decent plan. Maybe I should try this. I have noticed that working on one class at a time seems to help with my schooling. I think your theme day schedule will also help you to not ignore categories of stuff. Everybody’s got something they need to keep up on and never do. Cleaning, extra income stuff, etc. Mine is definitely surveys. If I keep up on the account I can have it done in half an hour. If I don’t I end up so intimidated I end up losing out on most of the potential income. Hope the system works for you!

  3. I’ve been doing something like that lately. While I have a huge list of things to do, the more I think about the list, the less gets done. Since only half of my to-dos have deadlines, I have to be more flexible about how I schedule.

    I plan a schoolwork day, and that persists until I get at least a prescribed minimum done. Then I have a you-may-get-out-of-the-house day, and an obligation to finish up another set of projects afterward. So on and so forth.

    If I’m on a roll with the blogging, I do that until I run out of steam and pick up another set of projects.

  4. My workdays take so many hours (between the actual time spent at work, getting dressed and the commute) that I’m left with three days to juggle everything I want to get done. I really, really, really need one day of the week where I can putz around and be responsible for nothing, but I rarely get that day, and pretty soon begin to feel like I’m dragging and can’t get anything done. I also need to get in an extra nap at least once on my weekend, sometimes twice. I like your theme day idea. Remember the ancient housewife scheduling of Baking on Monday, Ironing on Tuesday, etc? I hope your new schedule works out, you’ll have to let us know.

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