One of the hardest things about working from home can be managing your time wisely. You’ve got the “whole” day to do whatever you want, after all, even in your pajamas if you so choose.
Finding a unique work rhythm that goes against the conventional 9-5 is not a bad thing. One of the key benefits of working from home is being able to make your work schedule fit your life. As I’ve learned, though, a workday does need some structure in order to be productive. Otherwise, you may find that two hours have rolled by and you haven’t done much beyond sifting through emails.
How, then, do you control your schedule with intention? What can you use to keep yourself organized and on track so that you’re not staring at the ceiling at 2:00 in the morning, mulling over everything that you didn’t get done the day before?
In today’s techy world, time management devices and apps abound. Really, though, all you need are two options: to-do lists and calendars.
In a recent article, John Rampton discusses the pros and cons of to-do lists and calendars. To-do lists, he explains, are helpful because they allow you to divide large projects into smaller tasks. What’s more, to-do lists are an easy way to see that you’re accomplishing something. “Crossing off things on your lists feels so good that you’ll be intrinsically motivated to cross off more items,” Rampton notes.
On the flip-side, to-do lists fall short in certain areas. Beyond the pitfall of always being able to add more and more to your to-do list, items on a to-do list may not be easy to prioritize. As Rampton explains, you may find yourself taking care of burning fires first or letting less enjoyable tasks fall by the wayside if you don’t give them the priority they need.
When you add something to a calendar, you’re more likely to know what needs to be done on a given day. In another article, Rampton describes how time-blocking, the method of blocking out portions of your calendar for certain tasks, allows for better time management. “Blocking time on our calendars encourages us to work on a specific task at a time,” he explains. “This not only prevents us from multitasking, [but] it also allows us to have [a] single focus on what we’re doing at the moment so that we can accomplish more in less time.”
Calendars, though, aren’t foolproof either. While time-blocking may allow for more focused work, you may feel stressed if something takes more time than was allotted for it. That’s why Rampton suggests in yet another article that keeping a time log is a good idea until you get to know your work patterns and how long certain tasks take.
I’ve always been one who likes to keep track of deadlines and tasks. When I was in college, my planner went with me everywhere. At the beginning of each semester, I reviewed each course syllabus and marked out test dates and project deadlines. I even went so far as to plot out when I needed to have research and drafts completed, weeks in advance.
Now that I’m a solopreneur with multiple jobs and numerous projects always in the works, I’ve gone back to depending on a planner. In addition to keeping a calendar, I also make to-do lists, a method that Rampton recommends. While my Google calendar reminds me of scheduled appointments and daily/weekly/monthly tasks (which I can easily check off as I complete them, thanks to the Asana app), my paper planner allows me to list my weekly project goals and keep track of how I’ve spent each working hour of every day (I’m not much of a time-blocker beyond setting aside mornings for certain jobs and afternoons for other jobs).
It may seem repetitive to have both an online calendar and task manager and a paper planner, but I’ve found that the two serve different purposes. The online apps remind me of what to do and when, and the paper planner is my place to set goals, reflect, and plan ahead.
At the end of the day, controlling your schedule comes down to finding a method that works for you. The goal is not seeing how quickly you can check off items on a to-do list or completely block out your calendar. The goal is being intentional about your day. The more you can make the most of your work time, the more you’ll feel confident about the work you do and the time it takes to do it.