The First Big Game Changer: Time Management from the Inside Out
Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out* is another influential book on time management that has shaped the way I get things done. I came to this book after I’d read Covey’s, and I was already familiar both with her book on organizing (it’s worth checking out if you feel overwhelmed by the task of ensuring that everything you own has a home) and her theory that one should not check emails first thing. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
What makes Morgenstern’s book so helpful is that she talks about some of the internal hurdles we have when it comes to getting things done. Whether it’s perfectionism, or a fear of failure (or a fear of success), imposter syndrome, or general overwhelm, our mental states can create barriers to accomplishing the things on our to-do list no matter how bad we think we want to get them done.
The Right Tools Make a HUGE Difference!
She also spends some time talking about finding the system that is right for you. As I wrote in my introduction to this series of posts on getting things done, it’s really important that the system we use, planners we use, etc. fit our personalities and lifestyles. I no longer use that Palm Pilot because I’m working from home, and I’m at either my desktop computer, or I have my laptop computer. Sometimes, I use the tablet if I need something ultra-portable. Cloud-based software really makes streamlining all of that very easy. If I’m on the go, and I really have to be abreast of what’s going on in a Facebook group or I’m waiting for an important email, I have my phone equipped with apps that make tracking everything easy. But I don’t use multiple different platforms to track things. I like to have everything streamlined and in one place. Morgenstern points out that it’s really important that we use the tool and system that works best for our needs, not the tool or system that seems the flashiest or that works well for someone else. This is why taking stock of your needs, as I did in the first post, is so important.
The Importance of Knowing How you Spend Your Time
If you haven’t done a time map of how you spend your time, I strongly suggest doing one. Every time you change activities for a week, write down the time and what the activity is. There is software for tracking this online, but I found that the old-fashioned pen and paper method is best here. I tracked in 15 minute increments the first time I did this. It’s amazing how much time I thought I was using for pursuing my goals and how little time I was actually using. If you want to get fancy, note your energy levels as well and when you start to feel hungry. This is really instrumental for determining how best to organize your day in terms of what sorts of tasks you work on when. For example, I try to do all of my writing and intense editing activities when I have the most energy and I save social media marketing scheduling for times when I have lower energy or when I know I will have lots of interruptions. Doing a time audit from time can really help you see where you’re spending your time.
I’m also going to let you in on a secret. I time a LOT of my activities. I know exactly how long it takes to write 500 words. I know how long it takes to edit a fairly polished abstract. I know how long it takes to make a single pair of earrings. I know how long certain lunch options take, how long it takes to get out of the door with 2 children under the age of 3, a teenager, and a husband. Knowing how long things take is vital to planning a day and being realistic about how many tasks you can accomplish in one day.
Don’t Check That Email First Thing!
There is a lot of great info packed into Morgenstern’s book. Like anything, I have my takeaways that I’m discussing here, and there were things that didn’t apply to me then (as a graduate student) and don’t apply to me now (as a solo entrepreneur working from a home office). The other big piece of advice that I follow most days is this one. I try to make sure I work on one big project before checking my email for the day. It is so easy to get caught up in email and have that be the only thing one does that entire day. While I like to maintain “inbox zero” (more on that coming on the next page), that’s not always possible. Some days, when there is a lot to do, I scan the email after I’ve completed my one big thing for any urgent emails/emails I need to respond to within that day/etc. and then that’s all of the processing I do with my email for that day.