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… His way of coping with the days was to think of activities as units of time, each unit consisting of about thirty minutes. …” – About a Boy, Nick Hornby

Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully disheveled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job; how do people cram them in?” – Hugh Grant as Will, About a Boy the movie.

How do you divide your time? We all get the same number of hours to work with. Some are just better at managing them.

The character Will from Nick Hornby’s novel “About a Boy,” which was made into a movie starring Hugh Grant, divided his days into units of 30 minutes. Every activity was broken down by how many units it takes to complete. Though his methods are a bit extreme, using a series of units to map out your day can be a highly productive way to work.

Think about your day and how each task or activity breaks down. What is the optimal unit for you – 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes? There are many options of how you can structure and map your time using units. For example, let’s take 30 minute units:

  • Work 3 units, break for 1.
  • Work 6, break for 2.
  • 3 units for project A, 1 unit for email and calls, 3 units for project B, break for 1.

Mapping out your day can be a great way to break up projects and tasks into smaller manageable piece. You can also schedule work around your daily cycle – those times when you’re most creative and productive, or tired and drained. One option is to use a spreadsheet program to create a map of your day, similar to a time map, broken down into your chosen units. Then fill in the blocks with your tasks.

Another option, and my preferred method, is to use grid paper to block out units for each day. This gives you a visual gauge of your day, and can be a way to track your productive times and less productive times. Dedicating specific units for email, checking feeds, and phone calls also helps manage “interrupts” in your flow, while you work on other tasks. You can also make sure each project is getting the proper amount of attention.

Your map of units becomes a guideline to your preferred work schedule. Remember to be flexible in the beginning, until you learn your work cycle, and map out the units accordingly.

Another important thing to remember is when you’re using terms like “map of units” and “getting in control of your units” be sure to explain what you’re talking about. As I’m sure many of you thought while reading this, the whole thing could have an entirely different meaning.

Tony D. Clark writes, draws cartoons, designs software and websites, and spends a lot of time talking others into working from home, being creative, and doing what they love. His blog Success from the Nest focuses on helping parents who want to do meaningful work from home and have more time for their families, and their dreams.

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