Struggling with Time Management

To say time management has never been my strong suit would be rather an understatement. Or, rather, nobody has ever accused me of being extraordinarily time-efficient. I vastly prefer to explore the connections, suggestions, implications of a piece of work, a reading, a conversation than to burn through something in the shortest time possible. Besides being more enjoyable, this approach means I gain a more robust perspective of my work’s environment and interdependencies. However, that’s not the way a non-ac gets to work.

My last post mentioned trying to work with the Pomodoro Technique, and in truth I’ve had several problems keeping to that methodology since mid-January.

  • The detail work of the semester has built up, meaning that I don’t always accomplish what I’d like to M–Th. Consequently, “regular” work spills into Friday, where I’m trying to put my less-structured time for writing and research. I need to work harder on committing to keeping Friday free from that gravel, or need to segment Friday differently. I’ll try the first, and if necessary move to the second.
  • I’ve tried to compartmentalize the technique too much, limiting it to time boxes that are long and only midly directed, really just to time that I’m supposed to be working on writing and research (acking that as non-ac it’s all work-related specifically). I’m going to start trying to apply it to shorter blocks (an hour) and other work types, like email triage.
  • Even with the short time cycles, I’m finding it hard to exclude all the distractions. We have an open plan in our office space, which facilitates group cohesion, augmenting of each others’ ideas and work, and creative collaborative problem-solving. On the other hand, it works against concentration. Even headphones aren’t always a guarantee that I won’t get asked to contribute to a conversation. Following a conversation yesterday with longtime colleagues Ryan Brazell, Barbara Sawhill, and Felix Kronenberg, and confirming some thoughts that I had when starting the effort to separate Friday, I’m going to start doing my writing and research work out of the office.
  • In fact, in part because of the short pause cycle, I’m having difficulty. Five minutes represents enough time for me to get interested in something else, but too much time for me to just stare off into space and think. My next step is to take the pause times and figure out specific things to do with them.

In other words, work I don’t do with the Pomodoro Technique has spilled into time I try to structure with it, necessarily reducing the amount of time I’ve spent working with the technique. My proficiency with it therefore suffers. Compounding this, I’m presented with too many distractions by attempting to use the technique in our regular workspace. Many of these distractions comprise legitimate and important parts of my work environment, but they shift my focus too frequently. Finally, my own strong tendencies toward following threads push back against the intended benefits of short-cycling time use.

I intend to take the whole spring term to try to master the Pomodoro Technique and in the process to get a better handle on segmenting my work time, so we’re a ways until I can call success or failure. However, it is Spring Break in New Haven effective 5p today and this mid-term check in needs to get me back on track.