How to Find the Time Part II: The Three Ways

Time Management. Image credit: lucida.deviantart.com

Last week, I wrote about finding more time using mobile technology. Today, I want to suggest three approaches to scheduling the main working time for your projects. There are multiple tricks and techniques beyond these, but they should give you a good start in finding what works for you.

1. Small parts, long term

Some of your projects may be one-off efforts, but if you are really committed to some idea, you want to make sure it will be sustainable long term.

Set a schedule

It’s okay if the project is planned as a one-time effort intentionally, but for the lasting undertakings, you want to build a habit. It is better to invest a few hours a week consistently than to do a few hacking sessions and then abandon the project.

If your daily schedule is stable, try to fit your project into every day. One hour, or even just half an hour to start is enough. If you plan well and keep the schedule, you can do impressive work in a year.

Try different times of the day. For example, I always had more inspiration in the evening, but then I tried morning hours for a change, and now I find them much more productive. In the morning, my mind is clear, and I can catch up in the evening if something urgent is left.

If your working days are absolutely packed, or you prefer longer shifts, then weekend may work better. Just make sure to keep some time for having a rest and for your family. Otherwise other parts of your life will suffer, and your project won’t make you happy.

In general, try to schedule your project when you have the least distractions, and when the others need you less. Set the expectations right about your time, and try to get support from your family. I can’t thank my wife Julia enough for all the support, understanding and advice that she gives me.

Split the project into small parts

Smaller tasks are easier to schedule, easier to fully grasp with your mind, and they provide a nice sense of progress as you tick them off one by one.

  • set weekly milestones
  • make a more detailed plan for the nearest week
  • keep track of your tasks with a simple text todo list (or a synchronized app on your phone)
  • make sure you have a few small tasks for which you can use 15 minutes of free time when you get them

I schedule most of my projects this way, including this blog.

2. Marathon style

For some people it’s easier to immerse themselves in a project fully, and finish some big step or even the whole thing in a day or two. There is surely a benefit from staying focused for a longer time and not having to switch context.

It is important in this case to prepare all the prerequisites, so that trivial things don’t get in the way of your productivity. For example, if you are doing a software project:

  • set up the development and debug environment in advance
  • do any necessary reading and research, make sure you know exactly what to do and how
  • set a clear and realistic goal
  • think through the test data, design placeholders, etc
  • if it’s a web project, buy the domain or set up staging in advance
  • if it’s a phone app, sign up for the developer program and run a debug cycle with some sample app in advance

Then, once you have everything prepared:

  • mark a day in your calendar, or a long weekend, or a vacation
  • let your family know when you won’t be available; make sure it’s okay for them
  • plan the rest intervals, power naps, walks in the park, whatever keeps you fresh
  • stock up on healthy snacks, or cook something you can warm up quickly
  • make sure you have coffee
  • hack away!

Sergei Pavliuk and his First ABCs project set a good example for this approach.

3. Make it related to your work

It is much easier to find the time and support for your project if it is work-related. Of course, this applies mainly if you are still in the brainstorming phase about what to do.

Consider making a mind map of your skills and interests at work and for hobby projects. Chances are, there is an overlap. If so, try to come up with an idea that can be useful at work, even a little. Discuss it casually with your manager or colleagues.

If you have a suitable idea, see if you can negotiate spending some work time on it. And even if you have to do it on your own time, the work connection still benefits you:

  • you can discuss it at work openly with no second thoughts about commitment, conflict of interest, etc.
  • if it’s useful at work, you get extra points for effectively doing volunteer work
  • you can go to related events, meet the people you need more easily
  • you can leverage some of the work connections and resources

One extreme way to make your hobby project related to your work is to make it your full-time business. But that’s a topic for a separate article.

I have a few friends who combine work and hobby projects with great success. Perhaps I will manage to catch one of them for an interview.

What works for you?

Which of these three ways do you like best? Can you share some of your own time management tips? You are welcome to add your comments below.

In the next part, I will tell you about a few ways to minimize the amount of time you actually need for your project. Stay tuned to the RSS newsfeed or email updates.

Update: Next part: How Much Time Do You Need?

This post was written by Valentyn Danylchuk, the editor of Five-Hour Projects. You can also publish guest posts here, suggest projects to write about, or get interviewed – contact val@fivehourprojects.com

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