I recently sent an email to a colleague explaining that my apparent flakiness (not my usual dependable self) was due to my life having been hijacked. Every so often a series of mistimed events crash through the door like a camouflaged bloke with big boots and seize valuable time. Life Hijacking is quite different from run of the mill interruptions that daily annoy and distract - like cold calling, equipment failure, visitors and demanding youths (anyone under 30 these days). This needy time thief rushes in and steals with an urgent insistence that cannot be ignored. Reader, I lost twelve whole days. Four to an urgent application form (not even mine) a form so badly formatted by the government (now there’s a surprise) that none of the information they required would line up in the appropriate boxes. It dawned painfully slowly (as we were working remotely between a PC and an ipad, and ipad’s don’t read forms the way PC’s do) so lots of work-a-rounds and a partial re-formatting by my talented daughter, won through in the end, phew…job done, back to real work, back to my to-do list.
I find that the balustrade of my beach hut (repaired last year) is completely falling apart, rot has set in, it is dangerous and the hut has holiday makers due. I beg a favour and barter with a lovely friend with joinery skills, working as his sous joiner until 10pm each night. Then I paint it, I estimate this will take me three days, it takes six long days. Stuff happens, that’s life and no one came to any harm, nevertheless a couple of working weeks vanished. I continually appear to underestimate the time that tasks take.
If like me, you are a list person and you will enjoy the deep satisfaction of crossing things off your list, along with the deeper and perverse satisfaction, of adding things and immediately crossing off items that were not on the list in the first place, indicating that you have achieved something extra - I hope you are still with me - then you are a committed list maker and quite possibly a little mad. My lists are not prioritised by order with most important at the top, least at the bottom – my items have numbers and, if urgent, a red * beside them. Anything with one of those must be completed that day.
I begin with a weekly list and then break it down into days. I put a number beside each item denoting its importance. So I might have 4 one tasks, 3 two tasks, 5 four tasks and so on. I often succumb to the temptation to tackle a couple of number four or five tasks rather that the trickier (and important) number one tasks.
And then there is filing. Lingering like a nasty smell from an unflushed drain and perennially on the list, filing is mostly dealt with by putting the four huge piles of papers and receipts out of my line of vision. Sometimes I have a vigorous hour at it, but the paperless office is a myth and anyway writers suffer from cuttings syndrome; bits of research, interesting articles and story ideas all end up in a pile and not knowing how to file them is a big disincentive.
Certain things take longer than they used to, job applications for example. Once a covering letter and CV was required, not anymore; twelve pages is not uncommon all items matched to keys skills, competencies, essential and desirables. The interview may take two hours with a presentation or test, and don’t be surprised if you are sent home to produce a set of strategies that you will implement when in the post, which you may not get, but they get to keep and ‘lift’ your ideas: this is about three days’ work.
Do your own time and motion study, write down just how long spend on any given task for a week. Then make a more realistic assessment of what you can achieve in a day. I am now actively putting less onto my daily list, today there are just three items that I believe are achievable. And note to self, 15 minutes filing a day would mean those piles will be gone in two months. Right now I am just trying to get back on track.
A useful book on time management is ‘The Fifteen Minute Rule’ By Caroline Buchanan.