Dots and Dashes

I don’t have time for that. I’m so busy. Flat out. Back to back. Chokka.

Or: If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.

Time management is an art. Maybe it’s an art and a science! One of the best books I’ve read on the subject is Never Check Email in the Morning by Julie Morgenstern. Three strategies in particular from the book have stayed with me years after reading it.

In reference to the title, the first approach is to divide your work into ‘dots’ and ‘dashes’ with the chunkier work that needs focus and flow being the ‘dashes’ and the little things – what I think of as shooting down aliens in Space Invaders – as the ‘dots’. If you start your day with one or two dashes, like a proposal that needs writing or reviewing a website design, then by lunchtime you will have already accomplished something significant and you can move on to an hour or two for dots or even unscheduled time that will inevitably get filled up.

A great visual analogy for this is the jar that you fill first with the large stones (big chunky priorities) then smaller pebbles and finally sand. If you do it the other way around there is not room for the large stones.

So how do you figure out what is a priority? Some much-needed head space to get inspiration, the proposal that’s late or calling a friend who hasn’t been well? On a pure work level Morgenstern’s second point of advice is to consider time and money when prioritising: how much time a task will take and what the potential financial yield is. So a quick client management task that would have financial consequences if not addressed is a no-brainer to do first. A longer proposal or pitch with a potential jackpot at the end can be a nice dash to start the day with. Housekeeping that takes time but won’t affect earnings much can be pushed back.

But we’re not living in a work bubble so do call your friend! The currency of love and friendship is worth more than pounds or dollars. Sometimes I ask myself if I look back on a given day if I’ll remember work projects or what my friend was going through. Usually I can remember project timings from what was going on personally at the time, like a particular website launching during the trip we took for my 40th birthday.

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To keep many work and personal tasks and appointments sorted, I’m quite proud of my multi-coloured calendar, which includes:

  • Google calendar shared with the Grain team for work appointments
  • Google calendar shared with the Grain team for personal appointments – so they know where we are when we’re not in the office
  • Google calendar shared with our au pair for kids’ activities
  • Personal calendar (using this for personal to-do’s and reminders)
  • Work calendar (work to-do’s and reminders that aren’t in Redbooth – see below)
  • Birthdays
  • Exercise (to note workouts)

I’m a great believer in systems! For about a year now at Grain we’ve been using the project management system Redbooth which we advocate enthusiastically. For any more info on it please email me.

Speaking of systems, the third point is to use what works for you. Morgenstern cites one of her clients who abandoned a paper diary full of post-its who then started to miss appointments because the newly adopted system did not work. Particularly when a new person joins the team at Grain I realise how many systems we have and wonder if they only make sense to me! They do work for me but we are always open to input from the rest of the team on improvements.

If you need help getting something done, do ask me!

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