Often, people ask me how I do it all—a PhD, advocacy, reading, writing, Chinese lessons, exercise, socializing, taking care of my pets. When I hear that, I think to myself, “That’s not really a lot of stuff.” There are people with way more on their plate than me. There are people with way less time than me. I guess for people in their mid-twenties and childless, it may seem like I do a lot. Or perhaps, I do several things that seem ‘productive’ and ‘intellectual’ to others.
First, I’ll go ahead and say I read many books that are guilty pleasure reads that require zero brain power (unless my internal monologue is screaming at the horrible plot and grammar) . Second, I have pages upon pages of just scribbles and ideas that are so bad, I can’t write a full piece from it. Despite those two tidbits, I’ll go ahead and share my 2 secrets to show I get so much done.
TIME BLOCKING. This may make some of you groan. It may bring you back to your middle school days when you carried around a school-issued agenda that an adult signed once a week. I started time blocking in college and have continued to now. Here’s an example of how I may time block now.
I started with an online calendar because it was easiest to block out times and move things around. As a college student in Boston, my schedule was constantly changing. Before, I never really noted how long it took me to complete tasks. I would block out time for everything—studying, class, internships, socializing, chores, meals, etc. As I finished weeks, I’d look back and adjust my future time blocks based on how the week went and what I knew was coming.
Now, I “time block” in notebooks because I prefer a pen and paper. I have a pocket sized notebook for random thoughts (shown in the top picture). In there, I dedicate one page per week for my major to-dos. I have time blocked for so many years that I no longer need to input exact times (like in the online time block shown above). I have a general start time, but I don’t worry about the end time because, let’s be honest, I’m too lazy to add in that setting.
I have a separate pocket sized agenda for work. This is a weekly agenda with note pages and a life changer (I can’t show this because I need to protect my work and data). Typically, I’m running several experiments at once, teaching, mentoring undergrads, and trying to keep up with readings and presentations. Having a separate planner where I can write more details than just “Work 8-6” is really helpful in keeping me productive and organized. If someone asks me what I have done or what I am planning to do, I can show them exactly what the weekly plan is, and what I am hoping to accomplish. If I forget about a reaction that’s being stored in the freezer, I open up the planner and remember it’s time to start the next step of my experiment.
Find whatever system works for you. I’ve tried over a dozen planning systems (truly—my bookshelf if filled with half-used agendas/notebooks). My general system of blocking remains the same. After some practice, you won’t need to block out time for everything, but you’ll have a clear, accurate idea of how much you can accomplish in one day.
RECHARGE. The second way I do a lot is by doing things that I get energy from. I used to think I’d re-energize from sleep. Don’t get me wrong, sleep is absolutely necessary. Plus, I’ll never say no to a nap. But while my body rests, I don’t feel re-energized. My mind is still groggy. I’ve found that reading and writing give me energy. They’re usually not ‘work’ unless I need to review a book that I really wasn’t feeling. Reading and writing get me excited about life and motivate me to do more.
When I’m tired, I’ll sleep my needed 6-8 hours, but I’ll get up and re-energize with books and pens. Because I’ve found what energizes me, I make sure to add in a time block for it every day. Sometimes, it’s only 15 minutes during lunch. On weekends, it can be a multi-hour session. No matter the time, I find it necessary to keep my days balanced.
Find how you re-energize while awake and try to make it a priority in your life. It took a long time for me to find the balance in my life, and I always remember the balance will shift based on whatever is happening in life. I know there will be weeks with zero recharging and all work. That’s okay as long as it’s not permanent. And once you start taking care of yourself, your productivity and quality of work will increase.
So there you have it. My method of accomplishing “a lot”. I’m still convinced people just think I do a lot because my idea of relaxation and fun are more like chores for others, but it works for me. It may be tedious at first, but try time blocking. Or at least take note of how you spent your day. Once I made a conscious effort to schedule my days, I realized just how much time I wasted doing things that were draining.
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