Tag Archives: time management

Time Is On Your Side–If You Put it There

Freelancers know a lot about time. About not having enough of it. About deadlines. About approaching deadlines. (Sometimes about missed deadlines.)

unique-clock-1For some reason, I’ve fallen into bad time management habits, so I decided to figure out why.  The first business day in September seems like a good time to share it.

Nothing takes “only five minutes.”
My clients say it all the time, “How long could it take to write that headline? Can’t take more than five minutes?” “Answering an email takes just a minute. You can write five emails in five minutes.”

Nothing called “work” takes just five minutes. Even if you don’t count prep time. To answer an email, I have to read it carefully and figure out what the person wants. (Often it’s hidden in the middle of a paragraph, behind the background and details). Then I have to decide how to best answer it. Then write the email and store the draft while I answer others, then re-read it for dumb errors.

weirdClocks-9Lesson #1: Do not let the client push you into a time frame that doesn’t work.    Set a time frame that is reasonable for the speed at which you work. You may lose clients that way, but better to lose a client by smart time management than through stupid mistakes caused by rushing.

Stop believing the travel time on Google Maps. People who made the maps don’t dash back into the house because they forgot a folder or a water bottle. They don’t have the same traffic and road construction I do. They don’t go to the bathroom when they get to an appointment to make sure there isn’t something stuck in their teeth.

Lesson #2: Add at least 30 minutes to commuting time. This sounds like it will waste time, but it can be a big deal. One client location is 31 minutes away by Google Maps. I have never been able to make the trip in under 45 minutes. Doesn’t matter why–if I don’t want to be late, I have to leave more time for the longer drive.

webpark-clockWhat if I am too early? I bring a nonfiction book that I’m reading. Something I don’t mind if the client sees. Example: Wabi Sabi for Writers rather than The Joy Diet. Love Martha Beck, but I don’t want to explain it’s not really a diet book or discuss diets with my client. E-readers are excellent for reading without broadcasting the title.

Time moves at different rates. Some days I can race through work, other days I have to drag and kick myself through the same work. I don’t know why it is, but on dragging days, time needs to be adjusted–it will take longer to do ordinary tasks.

Lesson #3: Stop over-scheduling yourself. You can’t keep up the pace. Leave a half day every week to catch up. I don’t book coaching or training clients on Fridays. I’m never bored on Fridays, and frequently finishing projects that got delayed, needed more research, got pushed aside. And if the week has gone well, and I have to find a coaching slot, Friday can work for that, too.

-Quinn McDonald still thinks time moves differently on different days, but at least she knows what time it is.

Managing the Future

A few days ago, I talked about a to-do list as a way of focusing on what needs doing now and not letting the rest of your work make you feel overwhelmed.

5-Tips-for-Speeding-up-Site-Loading-Time-without-Pricier-Hosting-650x365I discovered another tip as I was racing around the last two days before I left for Madeline Island. I had an impressive to-do list that needed to be done before I left. The harder I worked, the longer it got. Overwhelmed was coming back for a visit, when I took another look at the list and cut its head off.

A good slice of the list didn’t really have to be done before I left. So I started a page in my work journal called “things to do when I get back” and everything that wasn’t pressing went on that list. Pay bills? Do it before I leave. Send in the contract for a class I’m teaching next February? That can wait. Do laundry? Has to be done so I can pack. Those approved article for the blogs I ghost? Well, the approval had to be done, but sending them to the client could confuse the issue. So it can wait.

At the end of the long, hot day, I had a lot accomplished so I can enjoy the retreat, and a to-do list ready to go when I come back. No more overwhelm.

–Quinn McDonald is looking forward to deep writing of her own.

Image: Designyoutrust.com



Undermining Overwhelming

To-do lists are my energizing principle. Where there is a to-do list, there is a path of action. This week is lining up to be busy. With a class last Saturday, and class coming up in Madeline Island, the to-do list was getting long. The class on Saturday was the same one that kicks off the week-long retreat, so I couldn’t sent the packages ahead. They needed to be packed on Sunday and shipped on Monday. Today, as you read it.

Meanwhile, I’m teaching all day on Tuesday, and have to create two flyers foroverwhelmed upcoming in-person classes, put the finishing touches on the poetry class, write the ad for that, too. There are coaching clients this week, a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription I need for the trip, I have eight articles due this week, nine if you count the new one for Somerset Studio.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And for a while, it looked like I would. That’s the job of a to-do list, too. It’s not just what you has to happen, it also helps me know when each step has to be done. What looks overwhelming when you see the length of the list can look different from another perspective.

The other end of my logo.

The other end of my logo.

The key to not panicking is to do one thing at a time, and focus on that. Today’s task was creating the final schedule for the class, day by day. From that, I created a packing list, then put all the items on the kitchen table, checking them off as I go, and packing them. It did take six hours, and every time I began to wonder how I’d get through writing the articles, I reminded myself to focus on what I was doing right now. Tomorrow I will tackle what needs to be done tomorrow.

No worrying about what isn’t done tomorrow while I still have work to do today. Tomorrow is set up, and I need to work through the list. Feeling overwhelmed comes from thinking I have to do everything at once. As long as my focus is on the task at hand, I can stay in action and move ahead.

True, there is not much wiggle room. But then again, if I move in a straight line, it should work. And that makes me feel . . .not overwhelmed.

–Quinn McDonald needs to cook hummingbird food and then she can go to bed.

Time Management? Not Any More

“Knowledge is power,” Francis Bacon said. So did Hobbes. (Not Calvin’s friend, the other one. Thomas.)  I’m not sure it is anymore. Knowledge is easily available–we can now check up on facts much faster than in the days we had to go to the library and look up a book or article. Of course, we also have to spend some time sifting through drek to find the knowledge. But still, it’s easy to access knowledge.

What is important, however, is attention span. That is in danger of disappearing.

The star-eating chicken  Ink on paper. © Quinn McDonald

The star-eating chicken Ink on paper. © Quinn McDonald

Attention span is power.

Which jumps me to time management. It’s not time we need to manage, it our attention. Choosing what needs attention, how much attention, listening to what needs to be done, paying close attention on completing  the steps needed to complete the task–that’s attention management. It’s easier to start six things, jump from one task to another, add household tasks while we are doing office chores, avoiding creative work because we pretend the laundry needs our time–time management vanishes when we begin to practice attention management.

Attention management allows you to separate “urgent” from “important.” Both need attention, but mot of the time, we suppress “important” for “urgent” because “urgent” has our reputation on the line, and “important” isn’t “urgent” yet.

Yep, I’m pretty sure that attention management is a skill that can solve problems and help us get work done. And allow for play. Which is the whole point.

–Quinn McDonald believes that play is real work.

The *Other* Five-Minute Rule

dali-clockNo matter how much I try, for the last few weeks I’ve been late–to client meetings, to hair appointments, to teaching gigs.  It’s frustrating because I  don’t know why.  It wasn’t that I secretly didn’t want to go or was afraid. Just late.

So I kept track of what made me late and found out some surprising things.

1. It takes you longer to get there then Google Maps tells you it does. A GPS system takes you from door to door, not from the time I get in the car, can’t remember if I’ve locked the front door, go back and check (I did), grab a bottle of water, get back in the car and drive. At the client’s, I have to enter the parking garage, find a parking place, walk to the parking lot elevator, and cross half the “campus” to find the right building. All that adds up. None of that is accounted for on Google Maps. Now I add 15 minutes to Google Maps just to get there, and if I have to drive across the Valley, another half hour for traffic delays. I can always take a book or work with me in case the lights line up and I get there early. What I didn’t want to admit is that leaving an extra 45 minutes was needed. I kept trying to do more work in less time.

clapperboardalarmclock2. That “one last email” before you leave takes more time than you think. In my case, finishing up “a few things” was about 20 minutes, not the “can’t be more than five minutes” I originally thought.

3. “Leaving” means out the door, not to the bathroom, stop to put on lipstick, and round up the cats, who are not interested in my schedule.

4. I’m slow in the morning. No matter how I wish I could wake up and get out the door in 20 minutes, it doesn’t work for me. I need at least an hour and 15 minutes to get ready and eat breakfast. So I need to leave that amount of time.

5. If the meeting is in the middle of the day, it often means I have to change clothes or at least shoes. It also means I have to lock up the house, and check to make sure I’m not watering trees or doing laundry. (I learned the hard way never to leave the washer running when you are out of the house.)

When I’m working and busy, I underestimate how much time I need and how much work I have. So I have to figure out when I need to leave and then give myself a ten-minute window to actually get out of the house. At first I felt anxious that I was wasting time. With a long to-do list, though, my idea of wasting time is changing. Trying to do “one more thing” is a bigger waste of time than I had imagined.

Quinn McDonald wears a wrist watch. It’s an analog watch, because she needs to know what time it isn’t along with what time it is.


Art Journal Quotes

Yikes, I skipped a chapter in the book, and have to go back and write it. That kind of topples the delicate time chart. And of course, the inner critic shows up. And he doesn’t show up alone, no, he shows up in a clown car and 20 relatives will jump out to make sure I feel like I’m losing my mind.

So it’s time for art journaling quotes:

Time on your hands. Image from christainnewyork.com

Time on your hands.
Image from christainnewyork.com

The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.  –– James Whitcomb Riley

If you’re interested, you do whatever is convenient.  When you’re committed, you do whatever it takes.   —John Assaraf

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
–Thomas Merton

The artist soul thrives on adventure…and many adventures require that we muster up the courage to be a beginner. —Julia Cameron

—Quinn McDonald is feeling just a trifle uneasy about the deadline she faces. But she’s still going to walk and go to lunch with someone who is supportive and smart.


Making Room for You in Your Life

You’ve heard it before. You are in a class and the instructor says, “All you need in ten minutes to do X. Do it right when you get up and it will be done.” The instructor means this, because the instructor has a routine and the routine feels about 10 minutes long. In reality, nothing takes 10 minutes, least of all right after you get up. If you lined up all those10 minutes you want to dedicate to exercise, writing, spiritual practice, organizing or pet walking, you’d have to start at 5 a.m. and stay up till midnight. And never go to work.

So how are you ever going to get a daily practice of writing, art, music, dance, meditation, anything—in and stay alive?

I have an alternative suggestion. All of us have the same amount of time in a day—24 hours. They aren’t making any more. So getting up earlier or staying up later is not the issue. You are booked. Your day is full. If you want to a daily practice, you have to choose.

Give yourself permission to make meaning, let the housework slide, or let the kids make dinner so you can get your creative work done.

Choose one thing over another. For most artists, everything else comes first. We got into that habit with the day job. Work came first, then kids, housecleaning, pets and art came dragging along late at night. No wonder it didn’t earn a living. You treated your art as if it were an afterthought, not the creative force in your life. It seems fair to take care of everything else first, but when you put your creative work last, meaning-making takes a back seat to laundry.

Move art making as a daily practice to the top of the list. Fit in a day job, eating, and sleeping. Everything else drops down the list.

You not only don’t have to do all the housework yourself, sometimes it doesn’t get a priority at all. My house is hardly ever company ready. Cat hair swirls in the corners of the staircase. I don’t have dust bunnies, I have dust buffaloes. But I write, meditate and read every day. Because I changed priorities.

I used to do all my chores on time–vacuum, dust, clean bathrooms, empty dishwasher, do laundry. . .the list is impressive. At the end of the day, I was too tired to be creative. Then I gave myself permission to let the housekeeping slide. Not forever, but some cleaning doesn’t get done until it needs to. Ask others in the house to pitch in. Don’t do it for them when they don’t. Laundry that isn’t perfectly folded can still be worn. If the sink backsplash has water spots on it, the sink is still clean enough to use.

Use the  newly-found time to focus on your art, or reading or daydreaming, but don’t use it to check up on Facebook, watch TV or read blogs. Try daydreaming instead—it can be an important part of your creative practice.

Or, make yourself a permission slip? Don’t have time? OK, I’ll send you the one above–but only if you give me a compelling reason why you can’t make your own!  (I have three to give away)

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She never has enough time to do everything she would like, but she has learned to choose a mix of things that keep life interesting. Ironing isn’t one of them.


The Long March of Walking Meditation

Around the world once. That’s how far I’ve walked. Before your eyebrows shoot up and you wonder why you haven’t read about it, let me add that it took me 30 years to walk that distance.  And I didn’t walk around the world at the equator (that distance is about 24,900 miles) but considerably north of the equator when I lived in New England and Washington, D.C.

I walk every day that isn’t icy, every day I’m not sick. Sometimes 3 miles, sometimes 6, occasionally 2 miles. Having had a healthy life, I’ve walked over 22,500 miles in 30 years.

Every morning, before I do anything else, I brush my teeth in the dark, put on sweats and head out to walk. Sometimes, the constellation Orion keeps me company, sometimes it’s Bootes (the herder).  I’ve seen skunks amble two feet in front of me. I’ve seen an owl snatch up a rabbit, the only noise being the sudden rush of air pushed out of the lungs as the owl struck.

I’ve walked crying from loneliness or sadness, and in deep joy. Much of my creative work and ideas happen while I walk.  In the beginning, I’d tape radio shows and carry a tape player the size of a brick to listen to A Prairie Home Companion in its infancy. (Note to you youngsters: This was in the days of dinosaurs, pre iPod, iPhone, and ear buds. My earphones were the size of half grapefruits.)  The more I walked, the more I came to value silence. I’ve listened to sacred music, hard rock, audio books, and finally, nothing.

I’ve tried walking in groups, with dogs, with a walking buddy. But it comes down to a recognition of the truth of life–you are alone.  So I walk alone, listening to my breath, listening for a voice in my heart. For me, prayer is not a petition, it is listening. I haven’t learned much by talking.

It is late August now, and while, for many years, this was the time I’d need a scarf, it is still hot, even early in the morning. But the lingering heat will soon be defeated by the shortening days. I notice the sun rising later, we are losing light at the rate of 3 minutes a day.

It’s a tiny moment in each day that I treasure, that I set the intention for the day and reach for clarity. When my coaching clients tell me they can’t tackle some huge task, I think of walking around the world. And I answer, “You don’t have to do this all at once. Do a tiny bit–the smallest piece you can finish–but do it each day. The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She walks every morning in silent meditation.

An Order of Discipline on the Side, Please

Dali-clock from techabob.com

The class for yesterday didn’t make, so there was a whole day to my benefit. Wow! I really needed this gift of time (although the gift of money from teaching the class would have been nice, too.)

And then it was 8 p.m. and I had not accomplished a thing. How could that have happened? I did important stuff–answered lots of emails, kept up on social media. I found that great blog on, ummm, that thing. And then there was that great website that showed, ummmm, a video on something important. And before I noticed it, it was 2 p.m. and I hadn’t showered yet.

You get the idea. I filled the day with important-feeling, sounding and looking items that I didn’t remember. Each blog I read, each video I watched was important at the moment, but there was no connection between what I needed to know and the information that was pouring over me. We feel smart, but when we remember nothing because we take in too much, we are no smarter than a colander is full of water.

Here’s how today is different: I’m adding a small touch of discipline on the side.

I did not start the day reading emails. I started the day by taking a walk and doing walking meditation. I felt energized when I came back. Showered. Took out my 3-item to-do listThen I checked my email.

I didn’t answer all my email. I read it first. Chose the ones that had a direct link to the to-do list. Got those out of the way. Left some others for later.

Social media is important. Many of my clients come to me through Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In, so I have to pay attention. I checked

A mayan calendar won't make more sense than yours if you don't use it.

through Twitter, and clicked on some interesting-looking blogs and articles. If they were interesting, but not immediately related to my to-do list, I bookmarked them in my “check back later” file–a file I created for just this purpose.

Create bookmark categories that work for you today. You can change the categories later. I file most of the bookmarked sites to review when I actually need them instead of piling up information I can’t remember now. Information gathering is similar to going grocery shopping–you put what you need in the cart, but you do not sit down and eat everything right after you buy it.

For example, I am giving a speech in September. From a Twitter link, I found Prezi, a tool that is more useful to me than Powerpoint. But today, I am not writing that speech. So I bookmarked the article and moved on. Today I need to organize a class I’m teaching in about two weeks, and most of that will happen with a piece of paper and a pencil, figuring out timelines and outlines and when to do the exercises. (Yes, I do this with a pencil and paper.) And I need to pay bills.

Use the computer in ways you need to use the computer. I pay bills online. I ignored the emails coming in during that time, because they weren’t related to the items on my to-do list. I did not go back to check on Twitter right then. I needed to move ahead with my class.

Turn off the computer. One of the reasons I bought a laptop is that I can close it and ignore it. I worked on the class for an hour. Then I came back and answered emails for an hour, checked in with Twitter and bookmarked more great blogs. Next came the RSS feed list, checked and bookmarked them.  Turned off the computer again to run errands.

Run errands during off hours. As a freelancer, I save hours of time by not buying office supplies or running errands on weekends. I do that at 2 p.m. on weekdays. I plot a course that starts me at the farthest point out and works back home. It wastes less gas. I take a bottle of iced tea to drink to help prevent a swing through a drive-in that packs on the calories I walked off in the morning.

And so I moved through the day, looking at my to-do list, and keeping an eye on the clock. Tonight, I will review the blogs and links and see which ones I can delete. We save things for odd reasons, and one of them is that they please our brain chemistry like chocolate pleases the taste buds. Generally, when I review the articles, I can delete most of them. They were interesting, but not worth keeping.

Many days, I don’t succeed in all my discipline,  but on the days I do succeed, it’s not harsh discipline, but a light helping of sweeping away what I don’t need right now. What’s your favorite efficiency tip?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and training developer on business communication. She teaches what she knows and practices what she learns. Oh, and I’m teaching at Art Unraveled, an art retreat in Phoenix in two weeks.

Adding White Space in Your Life

White space. If it’s not in your life you are missing something. You may feel overbooked, understaffed, and exhausted. Yep, white space. What is white space, exactly? If you’ve ever done design work, you consider both the space where there are words and images (message space) and the space that is empty–called “white space.”

White space is important. Too much copy and illustratrion, and you feel exhausted looking at the page. You often don’t read any of it. Too little white space and you feel lost and disconnected, not sure you understand what you are looking at.

From Larisa Thomason's article on using white space in design. Link is in article, below

If you know this already, you might explore “passive white space”–margins and spaces between paragraphs, and “active” white space, the space purposely designed to give your eyes and mind a rest.

If you are interested in how to use white space in design, read Larisa Thomason’s excellent article “The Use of White Space.” The image on the left is from that article.

I worked in ad agencies and book design, so I value the good use of white space.

So yesterday, when I was having a  terrible, no-good, horrible, really bad day (Judith Viorst knows about those days). I felt jammed up by 7 a.m., when the tree trimmer didn’t show up. The day got worse, and I was exhausted, angry, and useless by 10 a.m.

I made a choice that changed the day. Here’s how I did it:

1. I stopped doing my work. Put the phone down, signed out of email. I needed to distance myself and my anger from my clients.

2. I took a break. I got a glass of ice tea, looked out the window  and did some deep breathing.

3. I re-set priorities. This is the hard part. I had to call clients, work on projects,  sort out the muses for a blog post. But I knew if I forced myself ahead with the considerable self-discipline I am capable of, I would do more damage than good. I’d make mistakes because I was frustrated; I’d miss correcting those mistakes because I was rushed. I’d create more mistakes and less forward motion.

4. I added white space to my day. I cut out some items I thought I had to do. I added a few administrative tasks that were more noodly, didn’t require a lot of brain power, but needed to be done. I added a half-hour of reading a magazine between tasks. Another spot of white space. I ran some errands. At the end of the day, I had accomplished some necessary items, hadn’t ruined client relationships and felt less harrassed and frustrated.  I need to be clear here: I chose not to do some important things because the risk of doing them and failing was more probable than being able to push through them successfully. This is the key to success–put off the thing that has to be done, in order to save it. It is a hard decision to make, and exactly why adding white space is a life saver.

I now have a name for deliberately putting off work because I am emotionally incapable of doing it. This is very different from avoiding work, creating excuses, or not meeting a deadline because you didn’t get up early enough. You know the difference. My day was saved and ended well because I added white space. Try it.

Quinn McDonald is a communication trainer. She develops and teaches workshops to help people communicate more clearly.