I have lost my edge. Now that I’ve realized that, I need to figure out how to get it back. I used to be really great at time management, but nowadays I once again get that familiar feeling of having achieved nothing during the day, and of not knowing what to do next.

First a little context. Quite a few years ago, I was a Product Owner for a project management application called Artia, and at the time we decided it was important for the product to have a strong time management component. So I researched and practiced a number of time management techniques and practices so that we could incorporate into the product a way to help people not only manage their projects, but also be more productive while working on these projects. The end result of this process was that the product had a really nifty time management feature set, and that I became quite good at applying time management techniques, in particular the Pomodoro Technique.

Then, I changed city, jobs – and in fact went from employee, to entrepreneur, to being a little bit of everything at the same time – and all of a sudden my life became a mess. Gone were the days of a regular 9 to 5 job (in Brazil we do 8 to 6 as lunchtime is sacred to us), and gone was the time when I could sit at my desk and leave four hours later. Of course, there were meetings and office interruptions, but nothing remotely compared to the craziness of my current days… A big disruption to your regular routine can really throw your habits to shreds, including the good ones that you’d rather keep.

There are a few clear signs that things are going wrong. A lack of focus during the day, causing me to jump from task to task before any single thing gets completed. A sense of tiredness at the end of the day, and specially of having achieved nothing. Longer tasks that require focus become harder and harder. In fact, the very same feelings that made me delve into time management techniques all those years ago. It gets particularly bad when your work requires a lot of context switching, like when you have a day job, a significant side project and a family demanding your attention.

Since the illness has been diagnosed, I’ve started working on the cure. And interestingly, the factors that helped cause the disease are the same that, when applied more mindfully, will allow me to get back in shape. The fact that my time is so flexible, which means I am often switching context and interrupted, also means that I can manage my own time much more freely.
It all started, as it often does, with a great chat with an inspiring person (thanks Poornima!). Poornima made me realize that the concept that “what is not measured cannot be improved” also applies to time management. So, I set out to build a spreadsheet where I registered how I would like to spend my hours, split between all the projects and activities that I take part in.

Time Planning Spreadsheet

The next step was also obvious. In the past I have seen great results from using the Pomodoro Technique, so I would just go back to applying it fully. This also meant going back to daily to-do lists, which are perhaps the single best thing someone can do to help them better manage their time. This time, rather then using the complex (and extremely powerful) Vitamin-R app which I have used in the past, I opted for a simple timer – the PomodoroApp.

Then on to tracking results. I use Paymo to track some of my client work, so at first I thought it would be a natural fit to use Paymo’s time tracking features. I was wrong – Paymo is great for invoicing and managing paid work, but it’s not really that great for general time tracking. I will now switch to Rescue Time, which is designed specifically for this.

The distance between knowing how to make something work and not applying this knowledge has always been something that frustrated me tremendously. Even more so when it happens on my own projects and activities. I am now determined not to let this happen with my own time management. Writing about it is a way to help keep me accountable and motivated.

Do you also have a difficult time managing your time? Have you already tried any techniques? What are your biggest difficulties? Reach out on Twitter, let’s talk!