As a professor of interior design, I often witness dedicated students turn in unfinished midterm or final projects. It is not due to the lack of dedication or effort, but the result of poor time management. One can have all the commitment in the world, without proper time management it will be a rat race against the clock. This results in unfinished work, self-doubt and decrease in confidence in one’s work.
Until I started architecture school, I proudly gloated about my time management skills, my ability to get it all done within a planned time frame. I consistently found myself saying: “If only there were more than 24 hours in a day!” or “I don’t have enough time to do all that is needed.” Relaxing time was scarce and running against the clock became a habit due to my unawareness of the needed time for creative efforts such as conceptualizing and designing. My time was not being efficiently utilized resulting in working harder versus smarter. In my second semester, I concluded it was either I handled my time, or I burned out, and that was not an option. Then I started searching for time management techniques, and I discovered bullet journaling and time blocking, all methods of managing my time.
Effective time management of three main phases: prioritization, scheduling, and execution.
List all your tasks. First, make a to-do list for the day/week and write down all the things you need to get done today, with no regard to the order. The to-do-list can be a hand-written on paper or created using an application like Notes, Reminders, etc. My preferred method is to hand-write throughout the day my tasks in a bullet journaling system in a notebook with a brief description or note (due dates, dependents, etc.) regarding the tasks. The populated list will illustrate the full scope of tasks needed to be completed and facilitate the prioritization process of your time.
First Things First. Due/deadline dates will guide the prioritization process. There are many prioritization methods for time management. The ABC rank order method best suited the nature of the type of tasks of architectural school, and I still use the technique in both the professional and the personal realm.
The ABC ranking method involves assigning the letters A, B, and C to your tasks where each letter is an indicator of the level of priorities: A = highest priority activities (must do immediately – soonest due/deadline dates) | B = second-priority activities (not immediately, but you should do soon) | C = low-priority tasks or things you would like to do (can wait to do)
Once the tasks in category A are completed, the tasks from category B can be moved into the A category, and the tasks in category C moves up to category B. During the time of execution, there may be new tasks added to the three categories which will require sorting out accordingly.
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” ― Michael Altshuler
Assign duration of tasks. A full understanding of the scope of each task is required to identify the duration of each task. Sometimes, we list tasks at a macro level which requires sub-tasks for completion. For example, the task is to complete the bedroom design which requires subtasks such as select materials, sketch the layout, develop the color palette, etc. So, the total duration of this task maybe 3 hours with 1 hour for selecting materials, 1-hour for sketching the layout, and 1-hour for developing the color palette. Some of these tasks can be completed consecutively in a continuous manner where one sub-tasks depend on another for completion. Tasks can be assigned to different days and time. Now that you have a comprehensive 360 view of your tasks, you can assign the duration of time required for completion. This duration will assist in the process of scheduling your time.
Identify your peak performance zone. According to the medical professionals, peak performance zone is a state in which the person performs to the maximum of their ability, characterized by subjective feelings of confidence, effortlessness and total concentration on the task. We all attain our peak performance at different times. For instance, I am an early bird and night owl; I get into my performance zone after 10:00 PM and between 6:00 AM to 8:00 AM. These are the time of the day I have fewer distractions in my environment. Identifying the time of the day you attain your peak performance will lead to the scheduling of tasks execution
Schedule when to start and complete tasks. Now that you have a solid overview of all your tasks, the scheduling process begins. There are several scheduling methods; I practice both time-boxing and time-mapping according to the type of tasks. For project-based tasks, I implement the time-boxing technique requiring dividing parts of your day that fits your daily routine. The bulk of times I often use are morning, noon hour, afternoon, dinner hour, and evening. Once completed, assign the task to each block of time. It is recommended to take a break in between time blocks to refocus to move on to the next block of time. For individual tasks with no dependent tasks with duration less than 1-hour long, I utilize the time-mapping method. It is similar to the time-blocking method but on a smaller time scale starting at 15 minutes increment. I often capture my daily activities such as food shopping, gym, dropping off laundry, etc.
Manage interruptions and distractions. The key to managing distractions and interruptions is to create a do not disturb zone and environment. It is important to create an environment that promotes focus. This environment will contain different cues according to each. I need background noise such as the TV to focus on a task or else I will fall asleep. Music is a significant distraction for I will start singing along and dancing.
Eliminating distraction for me involves placing my cell phone on silence and placing it upside, disabling all social media notifications on my laptop, and placing a do not disturb sign on my doorknob. Do whatever what works for you. I have a friend she would put her phone in a different room from where she would be working. Once the environment is set to eliminate distractions, you can start working on the tasks at hand.
These are not the only means and method for time management but those I have adopted. Everything we do requires time, it is inevitable. Best to manage time to allow yourself some R&R time also known as Rest & Relaxation. This does require a certain amount of discipline, but nothing you are not able to do.