Time Management

posted in: Organisation | 34

I hesitate to write this post, but a few people have encouraged me to have a go. They seem to believe I get a lot done in a day and want to know the “secret”. Of course they are being kind and flattering me as being a bit of an expert on this topic, which of course I am not. I just have the overwhelming feeling that there are so many things I want to achieve today, this week, this year, and before I die. This is a bit motivator for me.  A long list, and a feeling that time is not infinite. A sense that although I know sleep is important I would really like to avoid it and do something more interesting.

I will outline a few things that help me, and welcome other suggestions, and disagreements and critiques.

I would hate anyone to think I am recommending any approaches or ways to live. Having a lively blog can make it seem that I am very busy as I write down things that other people don’t even mention. For example keeping a list of the books I have read; many people read as much or more but don’t feel the need to show off about it!

There is a whole movement about the value of “wasting time”, being open to spontaneous things and being available to others. I can absolutely appreciate this and I do recognise the quality that comes from doing things slowly, deliberately, generously and sensuously. Some of my dearest friends are like this. I don’t feel in anyway superior about being constantly busy and slightly on edge – I suspect these things are partly inborn and partly trained from a very young age. I come from a family that was never, ever, ever late.

By the way, my kids laugh out loud whenever anyone makes the “when the hell do you sleep?” remark. They know the real reason for me having more time than others is because Nick does all the housework and cooking.

  • Cut down on the housework and cooking

My husband enjoys cooking. He makes dinner every day, and a packed lunch. He irons my shirts and organises my train tickets. I know that I am very fortunate and this could be the key difference between me and the next woman. I rarely cook – when I am alone I eat toast.  In an average day I probably only spend around 10-15 minutes on housework.

  • Cut out most shopping and avoid buying stuff

We get food delivered, but I pick up fresh things on my way home from work. This takes no more than 10 mins. I use the internet for shopping for things like books, knitting needles and interfacing. If I am in town, between meetings, I often drop into high street shops to look at the clothes. I like to examine the trends briefly, but I hardly ever try on or buy. Once or twice a year, usually in the sales,  I might get something. I spend less than 10 minutes a day shopping, including browsing.

  • Be “Mindful” about time

I suppose it helps if you can decide what you want to achieve with your time, and what you struggle to get done.  I cut down the things I don’t like doing, the things that don’t make me happy or “add value” to my life. Some things seem designed to gobble up your time. For example I can’t face watching an advert on the TV, and I get annoyed by unsolicited emails and the rubbish that is printed in free newspapers. So I avoid them deliberately. Other things are necessary but not inherently interesting or enjoyable – getting from A to B or having a shower. I rarely spend more than three minutes getting washed. Obviously other people have different likes and dislikes. If you identify what you want to do more of you may have to do less of something else. Decide consciously what you want to avoid or limit.

  • Have an awareness of time

I have a “Protestant work ethic” and can find it hard to sit still – I walk fast. In fact I jog along rather than arrive five minutes late, and I squeeze onto a tube train even if it is packed. I usually know what time it is and am conscious of the end time of my activities – is this normal? Probably not!  I rarely lose track of time, even when I am really enjoying a book, making something or socialising. I feel time is precious and I try not to waste it – I can cut it fine and use every last minute. Hence the jogging. The big downside of this approach to life is that you can fail to notice or appreciate beauty, or small but important things, especially when you need to give people time. This is a negative personal failing and I regret it. I have a marked preference for doing something practical to help someone rather than listening to their problems. Sorry. This is not very endearing. My children are my sternest critics, and everything they say about me being insensitive is true.

  • Cut out most TV and keep social media under control

I don’t mind not watching TV as I consider much of it worthless. I have virtually no idea what is happening in popular culture. I never switch on TV, radio or music, because I think better in silence (I know others find the opposite).  On the other hand I probably spend too much time on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Nick and I often watch one programme together at night eg a Netflix series for about 45 mins, during which I also knit. So with the social media and the TV I am probably looking at a screen of some sort for two hours a day.

  • Develop non-negotiable routines

My most important routines are

  1. 5am get up
  2. 5-6am do something productive eg sewing
  3. 6.15 – 8am travel to gym and do an exercise class (eg ballet, yoga, weights, aerobics, swimming)
  4. 8.30am get to work and start working
  5.  12.30  eat lunch, read book, surf internet, knit, do personal shopping
  6. 5pm leave work promptly (if no evening commitment)
  7. 6pm eat dinner
  8. 7-9pm do something productive
  9. 9pm get PJS on, brush teeth, get into bed. Watch TV or read book and go to sleep by 10pm (or even 9.30pm)

I spend about 7 or 8 hours asleep, an hour exercising, and no more than one hour eating.

  • Try to avoid things that exhaust you

Stress, depression, and worrying can use up energy and make you feel that you haven’t got the time to do what you want to do. Some of these things cannot be avoided and all of us are sometimes tired or upset. If this is the case I try to take it easy for a while and focus on getting more fresh air – walking near nature is a good one for me. And socialising – I enjoy spending time with friends and family and especially people who make me laugh. Although I enjoy a nice meal and glass of wine occasionally I mainly avoid rich food, sugar and alcohol as they can make me feel sleepy and demotivated.

  • Do something new or stimulating

It is important not to get too stuck with a routine, so I like to do things that are different and get me out of my comfort zone – the theatre, exhibitions, holidays, trying something new. Even when I am tired on a Thursday night I find my evening class reviving. Those three hours wizz past!

Jewellery Making class
  • Use down time, travel time and do two things at once

This is such a cliché but (like all women) I can do two things at once. I read the Financial Times on the bus and my novel on my way home. I do a few exercises (mainly not visible) when I am waiting in a queue. I have an electric toothbrush and do something useful during the two minutes. Much of my social media is done when I am travelling, waiting, on the loo (yes, that is embarrassing, but true) and sometimes I look at my phone when I am in a boring meeting (even more embarrassing), and regularly when walking along.

  • Do it now

This is another cheat really. If I need to do something I find it much quicker – usually – to just do it when I think of it, rather than trying to remember to do it later. If I have lots to do I make a list, but this is rarely necessary. Sometimes doing it now includes asking someone else to do it – certainly within the family we do this quite a lot.

I feel rather exposed explaining how I manage my time. I would be very interested to know how it is for you. Thank you for your interest and what can we learn from different approaches?




34 Responses

  1. Ruth

    Thanks so much for writing this Kate! I enjoy reading how working women fit in time to be creative, work, home and family demands. I’ve gone from working part time with 3 children at home, doing all the cleaning, lots of home cooking, all the admin and life planning, to working full time with one teenager at home. My husband now cooks more and does more admin. I’ve always felt the need to plan some creative time in for me, and am always trying to improve the balance of life. I agree with setting routines, but find them difficult to stick to! Recognising that priorities change is helpful, I’m not reading as much at the moment, or doing art based stuff, because I want to sew. I agree with cutting out tv. I know it’s easier to sit and flop in front of it, but find it helps to make it easy to start the next stage of your hobby activity, for example i cut out fabric at weekends, and try to plan some non challenging sewing for weekday evenings. If I want to do art, I put out a small amount of supplies out ready to use, so I don’t have to make decisions, about what to use I just start. Also planning a short burst of activity say 30 mins, helps, it can be too tiring to contemplate an hour or two. Thanks again, I just need to get my exercise routine sorted now! A couple of resources I enjoy are https://theproductivewoman.com podcast and this blogpost http://www.karenika.com/archives/19517.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Ruth for the references, and also reminding us that our time, life and priorities change. Having had three kids too I had to work hard to stay on top of life when they were young and had little time for creativity. Once they left home I had loads of time I didn’t have before and I just grabbed it and filled it up with all the things I had longed to do. Your tips are great too. I think separating out the demanding tasks from the easier is very sensible.

  2. Tim Morton

    Hi Kate
    this explains a lot, thank you for sharing. I used to think you got up at 5 to post your blog, then concluded that actually they were timed to go out, as you slept, now I think I know it’s both.
    You illustrate one of the unsung benefits of using public transport is that you can do something else while travelling unlike the car driving commuter who can listen to the radio but is also focused on the road. I speak as an ex Bus conductor so I would say that wouldn’t I?

    • fabrickated

      Ha ha! Yes, the blog posts are scheduled to go out at 5am. I try to write two or three ahead, and write them at the weekend. But at the moment I am “running to stand still” and am writing Wednesday’s post tonight!

  3. Hila

    Oh my gosh Kate, reading this was like reading an insight into my own routines and habits as well!!!! ‘Hurried Hila’ was what people called me as a child because I dont walk – I stride forward. The “Do It Now” habit is so important and yet I notice a lot of people dont practice this but it saves so much time. My degree and PhD were in operations management which is all about efficiency – I excelled at this because its something I personally love. I also get asked how I manage everything I do and when I try to explain that its all these little things that you mentioned – its hard for some to ‘get it’. Its the cumulative benefit that creates more time – a tiny 1% adds up.

    Thanks for sharing this post – I got really excited reading it and was nodding along violently in agreement to everything. The not sitting still, morning routines, quick showers etc. I could go on and on. Its made me inordinately happy to read your post – thank you! Merci beaucoup! (I started learning French 3 weeks ago). Hila.x

  4. Sarah Skinner

    Hi Kate, Thank you for taking the time to explain your routines and I think you have been very honest and revealing. I personally love an ad break as I go and do something ( unload dishwasher, washing machine etc and get quite annoyed if I am forced to sit still for a whole hour ). I love my morning commute – I knit and listen to a downloaded Women’s Hour. I get to work in a calm state. I am still trying to build in more exercise but in the meantime I just walk fast everywhere. I agree with all your ideas. I find if I am just sitting knitting of an evening then that is when my teenagers will sidle up to talk to me ( they still love to play with the wool ) Darling son even commented the other day that the sound of knitting was very soothing to him so hopefully that helps to create a peaceful, harmonious atmosphere, at least some of the time ?

  5. eimear

    I envy the way you can read on a bus/train (I get car sick), I use long bus journeys for catching up on ‘this american life’ podcasts – one thing I do (as I am cook and grocery shopper) is I tend to batch cook, I cook for 6-8 and there are 2 of us – and freeze portions so effectively I am only cooking twice a week, and even with this it does take a lot more time than I would like!

    • fabrickated

      American Life podcasts are good, aren’t they? I like the Newsquiz, Kate Addie and TED talks. Also Nick batch cooks eg. four loaves at once, and gallons of soup. Very useful to have a freezer.

  6. Jay

    Fascinating indeed. I can’t really relate this to my lifestyle, or even provide a typical routine, because there are other people commitments which impose randomly, frequently, at odd hours.The things I do for me are in borrowed time, an antidote. My sleep is often interupted. I do agree that if someone else does the housework and cooking you have at least two hours a day free, that doesn’t happen in my life. I walk fast, I do often do several things at once, so that’s something we have in common. Thanks for being brave enough to open the window on this.

  7. Stephanie

    Kate, I always enjoy reading about people’s routines, so this is fascinating. Thanks! It’s more or less what I assumed you do, although I had the impression that you sleep a bit less. I also sleep about 7-8 hours. I find without at least 7 I cannot maintain the necessary quality in the work that I do. (I also long ago got rid of the “chaff” that I don’t enjoy or benefit from, such as popular culture to a great extent!)

    I find it very interesting to reflect on these ideas, which I do often. I tend to feel the need to be productive all of the time, learned from my mother (who drove me crazy growing up as I never felt she was actually listening to me, as she was always doing something else; as a result, I practise being a 110% listener with people, which is hard sometimes as I also would sometimes like to be doing something else! Incidentally, my mother has become more attentive over the years). On the other hand, I know that I gain a great deal in happiness when I stop trying to always be doing something “useful” and just sit and look out the window and really taste my coffee, etc. I do some of my most creative work in the spaces that I open up spontaneously, and in the soft edges of time, when everyone leaves the office or when I wake up and instead of doing something scheduled I let some space or opportunity take me by the hand and lead me into it. (For example, Saturday a friend spontaneously invited me for breakfast and we had a deep chat which opened up new ideas and space in me, then Sunday I spent the morning reading the book he gave me, basking in the unexpected sunshine bleeding through the window and listening to sound of massive icicles melting and dripping! And then yesterday afternoon I got creative in the kitchen (unusual for me as cooking isn’t my favourite hobby). I still managed to fit in exercise and house cleaning and several hours of knitting, and planning for spring courses, etc. etc., as well as helping out two friends, but there was more randomness built into everything than expected. I come out of the weekend feeling fulfilled by the random lovely things rather than the routine (though you mention this in the context of trying new courses, exhibitions, theatre, etc.).

    Many of the ideas that you employ are proven time management practises, which I employ as well – including “do it now” and scheduling important things that you need to get done, such as exercise. There’s a woman called Laura Vanderkam in the US who has written a number of accessible and readable books on time management. I remember reading “What successful people do before breakfast” a few years ago. I recommend her books for people who are looking to streamline their routines and reflect on and remove waste.

    The one thing I would dispute in what you’ve said would be the idea that “women can do two things at once.” The examples you offer make sense as they do not require serious concentration on two things at once. I think the actual multi-tasking myth has been somewhat debunked these days given that the result of doing two things that require concentration at once generally results in focus and quality being compromised. I am definitely not a multi-tasker. I focus on one thing at a time and get it done well the first time, so I don’t have to go back and fix it (this especially applies at work, where it seems I have less flexibility that you do time-wise…I often get called in unexpectedly to do things after five p.m., because of the nature of the work, and I try to anticipate complicated requests which I will inevitably get at odd hours and that will result in extended work hours). A lot of that is cyclical for me, however, so there are other times at which I can control my time more effectively, fortunately.

    Anyhow, fun and thanks! Sorry for the long reply.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for your long, interesting response Stephanie. Again I think I know you well enough to have an idea of how you would spend your time. I think you are right about multi-tasking actually – important things need application and attention. I know as I messed up a pocket three times over the weekend when I was trying to look after the children at the same time.

  8. Wendy

    Kate, thanks for being brave and sharing your routines!

    You are very lucky that Nick takes care of many of the household chores. Those things eat up an entire Saturday for me. I forgot you commute via public trans, that gives loads of time to read. I use a car like many US citizens, my city is not well suited to bussing in from the suburbs, and there is no train. I use the drive for listening to music or podcasts.

    I am one who likes to sit and stare out the window for a while. This accomplishes nothing on the list, but I like doing it. I know for others this would drive them crazy! I am personally trying to multitask less, like Stephanie, to be more present in what I am doing. This is in no way a criticism of your habits, just a comment on myself. I need to slow down sometimes, otherwise I get sick and exhausted. That is no help to anyone.

    You have some very good advice on managing time, and have pinpointed some of my personal time wasters. Thanks again for another insightful post that gets people communicating!

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Wendy for your interesting feedback. I used to spend at least half a Saturday cleaning the house and, while I love a clean house, I began to feel quite resentful to be honest. I decided I would prioritise getting a cleaner just as soon as I could afford it, and also I try to not make too much of a mess, always putting things away each evening. The Kondo approach also really helped me with getting rid of stuff that just makes the house look a mess.

  9. Joyce Latham

    Thanks for the honest report Kate. My husband does all the cooking, laundry and groceries, everyday. I clean, put away the cleaned dishes, make the bed. This has given me a lot of free time. He likes to say ” I do everything” and I like to say ,” and I do everything else” . Ha ha. This works for us….and I do believe he does those things so they can be done the way he likes them to be done. Example, he thinks I spend too much on groceries…he can do it cheaper…I say …go for it, he likes the laundry to be done a certain way, I say go for it. I’ll be at home sewing! He doesn’t have a lot of hobbies…I have many. To each their own.
    I sew, paint ,sculpt during the day light and knit and read some tv during the evenings. I listen to music and walking is my main excersize.

  10. Giorgia

    Kate! Thank you 🙂 Even though you are incredibly well organised you still get a lot done in one day. I share with you some of the techniques: readying on the tube, only watching TV if I can knit or hand sew in the meantime. I do work longer hours though, and I’m telling myself that’s why I don’t go to the gym much – even though it’s something I have to change.

    One main reveal is that we sleep the same amount of time but my schedule is overall delayed by an hour. Waking up at 6 and going straight to work (7:30am), leaving at 5pm and getting home at 6:15pm. Cooking/tidying up then usually doing stuff for about 1/1:30h then a bit of TV/knitting and by the time I’m in bed is 11pm. Also, considering I volunteer weekly, learning a foreign language and the pattern course class I have more days I come home at 9pm than the ones I have a free afternoon. Still, plenty of times I know I just get home and knit because is a good excuse to sit on the sofa.

    I don’t know if I could wake up at 5am voluntarily. I already struggle with 6am. But perhaps in Spring, when the daylight comes early, it might be an idea 🙂

  11. Carolyn

    I don’t do housework or cook either – only the very basics and they are scheduled so that they take as minimal amount of time as necessary. I no longer have small children so I can spend entire weekends sewing if that’s what I want. Also I still spend a considerable amount of time commuting and like you I use it to read, surf the internet and read blogs, catch up on political things or just listen to music. More music lately so I can keep my stress levels down. I do watch TV ~ kinda addicted to that ~ but many times it can be a background to other tasks I’m doing because I’m one of those who think best with some background noise. And finally like you, I HATE to be late. I’m always on time or early and schedule my time so that I am.

    Thanks for sharing how you manage your time and for being so transparent. All of us have our challenges and knowing them is winning in my humble opinion.

  12. annie

    I think the only one of these ideas I could not incorporate would be reading on my iPhone or iPad while walking somewhere. Not that I would be physically unable, but that I find people who do that are completely unaware of where they are walking. I’m old-school that way, I guess.

    • fabrickated

      I agree with you Annie. It is also dangerous. I have tripped up more than once because of reading my phone while walking. But just this lunch time I walked to the tube with two lunch guests and immediately we started looking at our phones because we had been off line for an hour or two and felt the need to check messages before disappearing into the tube.

      • Nina

        It can also leave you vulnerable – I had my phone stolen from my hands by a young man on a bicycle a couple of years ago, when I was using it whilst walking. Got to hope that any CCTV of a small older woman chasing obsessively and swearing after a much younger man who had the advantage of transport, has been discreetly erased by now…. Anyway, I always keep my phone in my pocket when on the move now.

  13. Abbey

    This is absolutely fascinating! I love reading about other people’s time management and daily routines, so thank you for sharing yours. (Though I totally understand your feeling of being exposed–a person’s daily routine can say a lot about them, can’t it?) I should take a note from you and always take advantage of any opportunity to get something done, no matter how small–it certainly adds up. I know I waste a lot of time that I could put toward something, whether it’s a hobby or something around the house!

  14. Sam

    I feel like Demented Fairy, I need a nap after reading that! It was really interesting to read though because it does amaze me how productive you are. You are so lucky to have a husband that does the cooking and housework – mine does do some housework but rarely cooks. And I mean rarely – the weekend before last he cooked a meal for the first time in several years! I do enjoy cooking, but it can take up a lot of time, as can planning what to cook!

    I love that you are able to get up and be productive at 5am. Several days a week (it varies depending on what projects I’ve got running) I have to be up by 6am to travel to site, but I don’t think I’d be able to do anything very productive at that time of the morning. And I confess that on the days I’m working from home I’m sometimes still in bed at 8am. My excuse is that I don’t sleep very well, but staying in bed that late on a work day is something I need to change. During the week the thing that takes up most of my time is driving. I can often spend up to 6 hours in the car travelling to and from appointments, sometimes more depending on the M25, and I find driving tiring, so even if I’m home at a reasonable time I often feel too tired to be very productive other than to cook dinner. I definitely need to work on a plan for those days when I’m not spending all day in the car and aren’t too tired to use my evenings well.

  15. Naomi

    My timetable at the moment is pretty crazy, which means I say no to a lot of things.

    Basically at the moment Mon – Thurs:
    Alarm goes off at 6.45am
    Leave house at 8am – ideally by bike
    Work 8.30am – 5pm
    Arrive rehearsal 5.30pm, dinner
    Rehearse 6 – 10pm
    Bike home and wind down with some yoga/meditation
    Get into bed around 11pm if sufficiently, read until 11.30 / 12
    Rinse and repeat

    Friday – Sunday
    Sleep in if I can
    Rehearsal during day 11->
    Perhaps some form of personal meeting with friends or performing arts colleagues
    As little by way of evening commitments as possible, usually only family with the extenuating circumstances at present
    Dinner, read and in bed as early as possible

    I am not a good sleeper so if I get 6 good hours I can function well. At the moment I am trying to work on improving the quality of my sleep, which may affect the quantity but who knows!

    This is quite different than my non-show routine, which would allow for 2-3 evening commitments during the week, and more social and sewing time over the weekend.

  16. kathyh

    People always say I get a lot more done than most people. I work for the US post office which means I work six days a week with an always changing schedule. I need 8 – 9 hours of sleep a night – mostly because of my auto-immune. How I get things done – I don’t watch tv. I might watch the occasional series on the internet (downton abbey) with minimal commercials and I can turn it off to watch later if needs be. The post office craziness has taught me to be more mindful of the moment. I can’t schedule anything because of my work life – awesome way to just say “no”. I try to enjoy the moment I am in and not think about moments lost yesterday or what the future holds. So – less time-wasting activities. Less thinking about them. I agree with the drive to do things before it is too late. Thanks to my auto-immune which steadily progresses, I feel time will run out before I accomplish everything I’m interested in. And my personal motto – “Curiosity will be what kills me.” I am severely curious and I want to know how to do things – from sewing to being technically savvy to write a blog.
    I enjoyed reading this.

  17. Kerry

    Thank you for being honest and open about your schedule, it was interesting to read and an insight into your busy mind! Reading between the lines in your blog posts (which I so enjoy reading) it’s fairly apparent anyway that you like to fit a lot into your day, so no real surprises there. That you like to blog about it is even better, because the sharing of ideas is essential for creative people. Your generosity comes through in practical ways: the blog posts, Gus’s wardrobe, minding the grandchildren, etc.

  18. helen

    This was a really good read Kate! It can be really interesting to see how others structure their time.
    I tend to do my sewing / knitting in the evening after the children have gone to bed. My husband is a carpenter and is always researching and trying out new methods so we both spend a couple of hours in the evening doing our own thing then get together to watch a tv programme. I can’t stand adverts either so it’s normally something on Netflix or recorded so we can skim through the adverts.
    My sometimes barrier to productivity is stress and fretting about issues. I have two sick elderly parents who are unfortunately a bit difficult to deal with. If I’m feeling down I seem to just waste time and nothing gets achieved.

    • fabrickated

      My husband is learning carpentry at the moment and hopes to make all our cupboards, and he is always looking at Youtube etc. But of course we have only occasional child care responsibilities. I am not sure I did anything creative when my kids were around – or maybe I have forgotten. I do sympathise about looking after the older generation too – it can be hard work, and I too feel exhausted sometimes and just crash out.

  19. Erika

    ha! that comment about being insensitive cracked me up. I would SO rather do something practical to help someone than listen to their problems. It is an ongoing discipline to do it.

    • fabrickated

      I feel a bit guilty about it, but now I just tell people that I can do cooking, cleaning, childcare, give money, help organise a divorce, find them a job, etc and leave the sympathy for others who are better at it.

  20. Brenda

    I paused after reading the comment that you are insensitive since I have felt very much like you care for others. Maybe I’m insensitive, too! Lol. I do focus on what’s practical rather than spending lots of time complaining.

    In the past I’ve been very busy and focused on lots of goals. Since October, I’ve slowed down considerably, and that has forced me to be very deliberate about what I want to spend my time doing. Now something has to be very important to get done. (To Fairy- napping can be very important! 😉

    Thanks for another interesting post!

Leave a Reply