I’ve had some crazy weeks the last couple of weeks (I had 3 book releases in 3 weeks, which is not something I should have done, but time management and guessing how much time I’d need for things was a little off), but, there have been a couple of things that really helped me out during these weeks. Today, as I’m planning my next two weeks, since I’ll be off to London and the ShiMMer book signing (eep! my first book signing!) next week and I’m making it into a whole trip, I wanted to share some things that have really helped me through the last couple of weeks.
This post is specifically written from the point of view of someone who has ADD (with a side of autism), and many of these tips and tricks work really well for me, but I do believe that they will be useful for everyone, especially people who get lost in the chaos or simply need some structure.
It’s Sunday as I’m writing this, so I’m going to start from a point where you can actually follow this along as I’m writing the post. Do try it. If it’s not going to be for you, don’t worry, but it’ll still be an interesting exercise to try at least once.
1. Weekly and Ongoing Tasks Lists
This is something I generally tend to do either in my notebook that I always have with me or in my weekly and other planning pages in my work planner. My weekly task list exists of tasks that need doing in that week, and that generally have a day or date attached to them, or simply a “needs doing”. This ranges from writing the next book to applying for promotions and also editing and other deadlines. Things that I now have a system for but that I used to just plan out in my planner also involved doing the dishes, getting groceries, cooking, vacuuming and doing laundry, tasks like that.
Ongoing tasks lists are exactly that, tasks that need doing at some point but that I haven’t gotten around to yet or that need more planning before I can start. For example, I have a list of email addresses that I need to clean out and sort properly or a list of website redesigns that I want to do but haven’t found the time for. These are generally tasks that are on your mind and take up a good chunk of mind-space even though you know you won’t be getting to them any time soon. Writing them down means that you won’t forget them, but they’re also no longer taking your focus away from more pressing things. You can, of course, write deadlines for these tasks, if there are any, but don’t try to add too many.
Exersise: Grab two pieces of paper, make one with the tasks for the coming week, and then the other one with an ongoing tasks list. Sit down with this for a while. You may move items from one to the other, but don’t try to overwhelm yourself.
2. Make a Weekly Schedule
This doesn’t have to be intense or even difficult. I like to block out time to do things and tasks, but you don’t have to.
Here is a picture of last week’s plans:
Pink is writing time, purple is editing time, orange is general work time, green is administration time, grey is sleeping and yellow is time where I (should) relax. I always set them up like this because it gives me a good oversight of my week and days. I also move these timeslots into my daily pages where I then break down tasks further.
But it doesn’t have to be this advanced. Before, I actually used a printable planner that had places for a lot of to-do tasks, both on a daily base or a weekly base, including spots for planning for the next week (for when you come up with things or when you need to move something from this week to next week).
I’m also making these available for you. They helped me a lot and I’m hoping that they will help for you too. They come in Letter and A4 sizes and portrait (standing) or landscape (sideways).
It’s purely a planner for tasks and to-dos, for time management, they probably won’t work as well.
Exersise: Take your weekly to-do list and plan out which tasks you’d like to do on certain days or that have deadlines (this includes meetings and appointments and things like that) for certain days. Break the list down so that you won’t be overwhelmed by everything. Stay sensible in how you divide things.
2.1 Daily Pre-Planning
Unlike actual daily planning (which I’ll get to next), this is where I move my time blocks from the weekly planning into the daily planning pages that I use.
On the left, I’ve made a timeline with two areas. The left of the timeline is for pre-planning, here, when I do my weekly planning, I’ll colour the blocks of time the same as the blocks of time on the weekly page that I showed before. I haven’t done it yet, but the timeline is already here. On the right part of the timeline, I fill out on the day itself, what I’m doing when, as it is happening. So, on the one side is the planning, on the other side the actual happening. The whole right side of the page is for tasks and other notes I need to make in my planner for that day.
3. Daily Planning
You do this either on the morning of the day itself (this is what I use my 30 minutes of admin time for each morning) or you can do it the night before. Here you take a look at your day, your appointments, your tasks and you plan them in.
Again? You ask. Yes, again. I say. But this is different from your weekly moment when you move tasks to a day. This time you look at the day ahead and think about how to plan time around appointments, or things that have suddenly come up that need doing quickly. This is also the moment to add tasks that have not been completed the day before, to move them to the next day or another day.
This is your sitting down and making sure you’re not forgetting things moment.
4. Productivity and Focusing
Okay, so I’ve talked about the planning side, which will increase your productivity, but there are other ways to help you be more productive. Here are some of my favourites.
4.1 Setting a timer
This is sometimes called the Pomodoro method. You set a timer (25 or so minutes) and for that time you will focus on one single task. You don’t do anything else. Then, after the timer runs out, you take a 5-minute break, and then set the timer again for the same or another task. After doing a couple of these, take a longer break. You can do this with homework, with work-related tasks, or even laundry. You’d be surprised how on top of your laundry you can stay if you do 20 minutes of laundry a day, taking it out of the washing machine, putting it in the dryer and fold some of them until the time runs out (or set a new timer). This works for many things, I actually do it for writing, I write 20 minutes and then I take a little break. I have a short attention span, so knowing when a huge task of writing a lot of words starts and ends helps me to stay focused on the task ahead. And, the small breaks allow me to get a little “reward” by spending it on social media or something else that I like. But knowing that the “reward” is coming up in X minutes, makes sure that I don’t get tempted to check social media during the time.
4.2 Breaking Tasks Down
When I publish a book, it generally says “publish book X this week” on my weekly task list. When I then get to the actual day of the task, I break it down into “publish on Amazon, publish on Kobo, publish on Draft 2 Digital, publish on Google Play, publish on Smashwords”. These are all separate tasks and they allow me to see what I’m doing and where I’m going. And that can be applied to many things, for example; do you need to read or study 4 chapters of a book? The task can easily be broken down into “study chapter 1, study chapter 2, study chapter 3, study chapter 4” and tick or cross off any of the parts you have done. You can even break them down into sections or paragraphs if that’s what you prefer. Laundry is the same, a list for laundry that often shows up in my planner looks like this:
put laundry in machine (clothes)
take laundry from line
put laundry on line
put laundry in machine (towels)
put laundry on line
I only have a washing machine, so we have clothing lines to put the laundry on. I’m too lazy to spend more than one day doing the laundry, so I leave the laundry from the previous week to dry until I do the laundry the following week. But we’re only with two people, so there isn’t much laundry anyway. “Take laundry from line” actually means putting it in the closet, which is 6 feet away from the line, folding and putting it in the closet are one single move for me.
If you’re on a task that needs your complete focus, you can try putting on music. I used to write a lot with music from a couple of bands on my playlist, but these days I prefer using a website with designed “brain music”. The website is called Brain.fm , and it has a lot of really cool sounds. I use their “Focus” sounds almost every day, I’m listening to it as I’m writing this right now. It’s 30 minutes of music that uses specialised music and sounds to get you focused. They also have special relax, meditation and sleep lists. I don’t use those as much, but they’re there if you want to.
I work best if I can close out the world around me, listening to music, but especially Brain.fm, allows me to totally ignore what is going on, the sounds of the music will blur the sounds from everything else going on. This means that I don’t easily get distracted by things going on around me, and if I don’t get distracted by sounds, I can totally focus on the tasks I’m doing. It’s awesome.
Exersise: Try some or all of these tips (Setting a Timer, Breaking Tasks Down or Music) this week, or even today or tomorrow. Try to see what works for you!
I hope you found this post useful, if you have any tips or ideas of your own, post them below! If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask!