Posts Tagged ‘time management’

Sometimes I forget that the best thing a creative person can do is shut out everything else and just take a time out. We all need time to unplug, unwind, and unthink.

I recently wrote about what I would do if I could create my own schedule and how I’d like to find a way to stay on a permanent vacation. In addition to the benefits of spending time away from electronic distractions, staying away from others’ opinions in general can be extremely beneficial when trying to create something new. In the days of hyper-connectivity, it’s hard not to be influenced by other media, including television, radio, internet, phone calls, and even face-to-face conversations.

While I respect and value the opinions of my family, friends, and colleagues, I have come to the conclusion that I need to set aside time for myself away from the phone, the internet, and people if even for a few hours a week. So, I’m going to schedule SaraKate Blackouts – blocks of time when I can just lay outside on a blanket and appreciate the shade a tree offers in DC humidity, do some painting, write in my journal (yes, I actually have a real paper journal … not that I use it enough!), go on a long walk without purpose or destination, make a decadent homecooked meal, well… you get the idea. Basically anything but errands, work, or connecting with other people. I plan to schedule this in a few hours at a time, starting with this Thursday evening. I’m not sure it will be the same time every week or even if the duration will stay the same, but I’ve got to start somewhere and what better time to start than now?

That being said, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes on meditation and reflection:

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying


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I know this entry is a day late (since I said I was going to post weekly on Tuesdays and it’s now Wednesday), but with good reason and I think you’ll find it fits the content to post a day later anyway. 😉

Over this past week, I took a long weekend and vacationed in Boston. I attended an academic conference on Harry Potter, which was sponsored by the Leaky Cauldron, entitled LeakyCon2009. My roommate and I drove from DC to Boston in my little Toyota Prius and blasted AC/DC and Journey with the windows down. Once we arrived, we napped and showered and met up with some other friends for dinner in the North End. We walked leisurely and took the long way from our hotel via the Freedom Trail, which features many of the historic sites in Boston. I didn’t check my email once.

We spent the next day wandering around the downtown area and met up with more friends and family for lunch, before heading to Cambridge for some shopping (and a new tattoo!), then went back to the hotel for the Welcome Feast on the first night of the conference. By this time, I had all but forgotten about email. I was revelling in the fact I hadn’t touched a computer in 48 hours (though I do admit to having posted and checked twitter once or twice).

The conference was in full swing and I immersed myself completely in academia, discussing religious allegory and feminism in Harry Potter, learning how the publishing of one novel (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or for the Brits out there, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) led to increased enthusiasm for fantasy in children’s literature and excitement for children’s literature in general, and how the fans of Harry Potter took values from the books and implemented them, starting the HP Alliance. During the day, I was an academic, taking notes on lectures by speakers such as Lev Grossman, John Granger (aka HogwartsProfessor), David English, Melissa Anelli, and Gwendolyn Limbach; by night, socialite, connecting with friends and spending way too much money on great food and atmosphere.

It was so energizing and refreshing to get time away and connect with friends on such a purely personal level, face to face and without deadlines looming. I felt like I could get time to myself and that I wasn’t being selfish just taking little bits of time for myself. Without worrying about obligations, my schedule was flexible. No one cared if I wandered into a talk a few minutes late (to quote John Granger, “Don’t worry. Come on in. We’ve just gotten started.”), no one faulted me if I took notes they couldn’t read (they simply asked for translation), and everyone was eager to offer their own ideas and take questions.

It was a lovely little break. Walking through the Commons and the Public Gardens in the sun just made for grand getaway and I wish I could have stayed longer. But, here I am, back at my desk and back to the same old grind. Now, what I need to do is find out how to unplug on a regular basis.

How do I bring a bit of vacation into my everyday life?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for ages… how do I take the proper amount of time for myself without falling behind in the steps I need to take to fulfill my goals. Or, as the professionals say, how do I find my work/life balance?

I need to set aside time everyday to go to the gym, exercise, or just take a walk; I need to read more; I need to journal more. These things sound like a list or resolutions, though. And, in a way, they sound like additions to my to-do list. What I really want is a permanent vacation. And by that, I don’t mean never working or lounging around a pool all day. I mean that I want to find more time to take care of myself.

I plan to do this in steps:

  1. Find out what it is I need.
  2. Make a list of those needs.
  3. Set aside time and money to fulfill those needs.
  4. Reevaluate needs.
  5. Repeat Steps 1.-4.  every so often.

So far, my list of needs includes:

  • reading
  • journaling
  • exercise
  • eating healthy
  • a clean and organized living space
  • adequate sleep
  • face time with friends and family
  • singing (even if it’s just along to music in the car or in the shower)
  • keeping a finances balanced
  • spending time outdoors

I’d really like to know: What are your needs? How do you keep a good work/life balance? What do you consider a ‘vacation’?

Now, it’s just setting aside time and money to fulfill these needs. Wish me luck!

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And it strikes at the oddest times.


Monsieur IV by Blanca Gomez

Monsieur IV by Blanca Gomez


While I was working on some menial administrative tasks at work, the inspiration struck me how to draw the logo I’d been wanting to create for a friend’s make up artistry business. Not only did I find the strategy I needed for her logo design, but a great name for her business and online identity struck me. I went to her and proposed it offhand, thinking she might not like it. However, not only did she like the idea, she even picked a theme song based on it!

It seems that inspiration can strike any time, day or night, no matter the circumstance or surroundings.

But this got me wondering when and where I do my best work. Where am I the most creative and efficient? Is there a specific time of day that I work best?

Personally, I do my best reading and research early in the day, when the sun is rising, with a cup of coffee or tea in hand, before I have a chance to interact with anyone else (hence why I recently decided to work from 8:30am to 4:30pm at my office). In regards to administrative, management, and other business-related practices, I tend to do best in the middle of the day in front of a computer, where I can manage things by spreading them out across a table or desk and can access any files or other materials I might need to stay well-informed and organized. However, I often do my best creative and artistic work long after this, at night, once the quiet of dusk has settled and I am alone again, usually sitting on the floor or close to the ground with materials spread out all over the floor. For some reason, my center of balance is extremely important to the way my brain works.


When do you do your best work? Do you find different times of day for different types of work? If you could set your own schedule, what would it be like?

Mine might go something like:

06:30 wake up, greet the day, etc.

07:30 coffee/tea, breakfast, emails, Tweets, RSS feed

08:00 research, reading, etc.

10:00 go to the gym, work out, shower, change, etc.

12:00 have lunch, get organized for the afternoon, check emails again

13:00 administrative tasks, other business-related tasks

16:30 take a walk, clear my head

17:00 finish administrative work, other business

18:00 make and have dinner, chores, errands, etc.

20:00 creative work

22:00 wind down, watch tv, read a book, catch up online

23:30 bed

I know my body likes best when I get a work-out in mid-morning, but unfortunately, having a normal 9-5 type job prevents me from having this ideal schedule, so I do what I can with what I’m given. However, at least I know what times of day and what situations maximize efficiency and creativity. Under what condiditions do you best work? How would your schedule differ from mine?

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Do you Twitter at work? Do you read your RSS feed while having breakfast? Talk on the phone and respond to emails at the same time? How many tabs do you have open in your internet browser right now? How many applications are running on your computer?

As many of us go about our days, we find our attention being pulled in many directions: family, work, school, friends, hobbies, taking care of our bodies and minds… I’m sure all of these things sound familiar to you. But how to you have time to balance and juggle all of your responsibilities (and even add a little fun and entertainment into the mix)?

Many people answer: I multitask. We all do it. But should we?

For someone like me whose mind tends to wander, multitasking can make or break my day and, ultimately, my career. I’m certain that there are times when ‘multitasking’ is appropriate in the sense that we should write down an idea to come back to later or that we should take a break from working on one project to work on another and come back to the first later. I am not convinced that my habit of working on more than one task simultaneously is such a great idea. After all, the allure of getting two things (or more!) done at once is hard to resist!

It used to be the case that employers wanted new hires who could multitask and even asked for the skill specifically. However, if you really do your homework, ‘multitasking’ isn’t really what employers (or anyone else) should be after. Why? Let’s take a look at the definition of the term and its etymology.

Following is the entry for multitasking in the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary:

definition of 'multitasking' from Mirriam-Webster online dictionary

definition of 'multitasking' from Mirriam-Webster online dictionary

Note that the first definition is specific to that of a computer performing more than one task simultaneously. Before computers, this concept had never been conceived. Now, in the Golden Age of computers and online media, it’s almost unheard of to NOT multitask, at the very least in the original sense of running more than one program on a computer.

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but humans are not computers and vice versa and there are reasons why two have yet to converge into one entity (though sometimes it does seem like our online identities can shape our ‘real life’ identities perhaps more than even we like or expect). Humans are imperfect and computers are only as intelligent as their programmers. But when it comes to multitasking, computers excel at processing more than one thing at a time and in running multiple programs, while humans tend to be most effective (read: accurate and precise) when their attention is not divided in ten different directions at once. The New York Times confirms that Multitasking Can Make You Lose… Focus, and the APA (American Psychological Association) has been claiming this very fact since 2001, saying that Shifting Mental Gears Costs Time.

So, while multitasking may have that allure, its promise to get things done faster and more effectively really holds no water. For the sake of my own health and sanity, the integrity of my work, and the sake of my personal relationships, I am making a commitment to leave behind the multitasking. Say what you will about how you can do a handful of things at once, but I would rather excel slowly at one thing at a time than find myself mediocre at everything I do.

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