So time is one of the few things along with money (or love if I'm feeling pink and fluffy and less materialistic) that we really never seem to have enough of. The real problem 99% of the time for me is not the physical quantity of time but distractions; this I have to say is fairly typical of people in learning and technologies are no different. I once ran an elearning unit (I know, hard to believe) and when the guys or I were off-site they were very hard to get hold of, claiming they needed to be disconnected in order to work effectively in their creative space. I'm not sure I was wholly sold at the time, but this is true in many ways, when you are 'deep' in to something, it's all good, but the start ups and slow downs can be a killer. How in the modern world do you stay connected to the resources you need but disconnected to what you don't need? I'll get back to this...
Firstly it's all about prioritising and ordering. It's not the sexiest topic I'll ever cover, but you know what really needs to be done and this is determined by how important it is and how soon it's due. I've seen a variety of systems from A1,C3 priority type to you standard high, low etc. whether you classify or not, you need to work out what needs to be done soonest and is most important and start there; of course remember the resources you'll need too if they are time bound and there's your schedule. There are a number of tools to help you work modern and collaboratively regardless of your geographic location. One I'm a fan of is Trello. It's a collaborative todo board with plenty of configuration options and the ability to assign and prioritise tasks any way you like. I'm not a big fan of the Gantt project type programs as they just don't work so well for me, I like to use a non-time based task planner and my calendar, but however you work you need to be organised to at least a basic task level.
I work from home mostly, that means a fair deal of isolation if it wasn't for the telecommunications and the web. The key practice I use is to always use two screens, I have one for communication; email, Skype, webinars etc and one purely for my focus; whether that's a text document, a Totara LMS site I'm configuring or elearning. For general use this works fine, when my phone rings or Skype rings (same same technically) I take it like any vaguely normal person. When time tightens and I'm working to a schedule that's when I go in to my 'black ops' mode. For me the primary communication screen becomes my research and comms screen; that may seem the same to the uninitiated but it means turning on my do not disturb sign and using the web more 1.0 than 2.0; that way I initiate the outgoing calls and use the web to bring my information back in. I use my calendar far more aggressively with actual programming for tasks than in general use and stick to the times more rigidly. My advice with your calendar is program the vital stuff in and stick to the time and go 'black'. Also you need to book serious time slots. In Wall Street they may book in 5 minute calendar appointments but that doesn't work in learning technologies; for clients everything is in 15 minute blocks for me and whilst that's okay for being reactive for pro activity I work in 30 minutes or larger.
If I've got something programmed for 30 mins and it takes 15 the 15 minutes remaining I can split into two options; I either return to normal, pick up emails and messages, make a cup of tea (hey, I'm still a pomme at heart) or I move to the next major task. The big thing to not do is to get deep into something on the nice to do list. This is another productivity killer as it takes me away and I get involved and can't get back to where I was and the schedule goes all over the place and I end up working till very late (again).
So what about modern open plan offices? My first recommendation would be a good set of headphones and even a sign up letting people know you're in development mode. Again, you can talk to others and get information you need but be the initiator rather than just someone to chat. If this all sounds a bit too rigid for you then try blocking out breaks too and if that's sounds a bit anal then overbook a couple of tasks to allow, but try to start them at the beginning of the time slot whenever possible.
So what happens when it turns to custard? Yeah it does doesn't it some times. Whilst generally putting out fires is more fun than plodding along, it is far less productive in the long run. If an emergency pops up, use the first period of time to reschedule and work things out; you may not be able to avoid working a little longer than you planned, but try and sort it on your terms. Resist the urge to just leap in.
So here's my disclaimer; I'm practically nothing like the individual described above. I would much happier work in the vision space and be far more spontaneous than the methods above describe and when work eases back (please.. Soon...) I return to holding far more in my head with far more white space on my calendar, but I recognise the need for time management and I put myself into that space to be as effective as possible. If I fail? Well, there's always the airplane and the night time (where most blogs get written!).
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Location:Over the Tasman