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Time Striping: A Different Approach to Time Management

Time Striping: A Different Approach to Time Management

Time Striping

    As a university instructor, I often have weeks-long stretches of unscheduled time in between sessions, which I need to use to catch up on all the projects I’ve let slide during the hectic second half of the semester. As a freelance writer, I always have a stack of little projects as well as ongoing commitments (like my thrice-weekly posts here at Lifehack) that need to get done.

    The Trouble with MIT’s and Contexts

    While I like the idea of “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) — where you write down the three or four things you absolutely must get done each day, and work on those first, leaving everything else for whatever time is left over at the end — the fact is that a lot of my commitments can’t be handled that way. I’ve got more than three ongoing commitments, each of which needs at least a little attention every day.

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    I also find that contexts in the GTD sense don’t really work for me — yes, all of these tasks might be alike in that they happen at my computer, but they require different mindsets. I try to batch things like phone calls and emails, when I can, but for the rest of my work, that doesn’t really work. To finish a writing task, for example, I might need to sit and read a little, write notes and thoughts by hand on paper for a while, and then sit at the computer and work — before heading back to the sofa for some more reading.

    Time Striping: Like Time Blocking, But Stripier

    What works for me is a variation on time blocking that I’m calling “time striping”. In time blocking, you schedule uninterrupted “blocks” of time for different projects across your schedule. Since a) many of my projects are ongoing, and b) some projects emerge rather suddenly, I need a little more flexibility than that.

    So what I’ve done is created a loose schedule where each hour is dedicated to a generic project, i.e. “Project #1”, “Project #2”, etc. As I finish a project, I slot a new project into its timeslot; if Project #5 only takes an hour, then tomorrow it will be something different. It’s conceivable that a particular time block will be used for 5 different projects over the course of the week.

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    Each slot, then, creates a “stripe” of time from Monday to Friday. In some cases, where I know I need more than 1 hour for a project, I’ll block off two hours or more and flow the rest of my projects around it. For instance, every other Thursday morning I record Lifehack Live, and I need two hours to prepare, record, and write up my notes. So that’s a block, instead of a stripe.

    The Time Striping Form (with variations)

    If you’re wondering what this all looks like, I’ve thrown together a generic version of the form that I use, which you can download. The first is a PDF you can print out using Adobe Reader or any other PDF reader; the second is an RTF file that you should be able to open and edit with almost any word processor (although in my tests, the formatting differs greatly from app to app; I got good results from Word 2007 and WordPad, and terrible results from OpenOffice.org 2). Here are the files:

    At the top is space to put any fixed commitments for the week. The bottom table is your key, with space to define up to 10 projects; as you finish a project, cross it off and fill in the next box with the new project for that space. The middle is an hour-by-hour schedule for the week, with one-hour slots from 9-6. (You can change the working hours or start the calendar on Monday by editing the RTF.) Generally, you’ll put “Project #1” in at 9-10am and draw a line all the way across (or fill it in on each day); if you need two hours, just repeat “Project #1” in the 10-11am slot.

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    Here’s how my schedule looks (click for a larger view):

    time-striping-screenshot

      Since I’m a slow waker, I’ve set aside the first three hours to check my email, look at feeds, check my site stats, have breakfast, and get dressed for the day. At 9, my workday starts — Project #1 is Lifehack, so I’ll work on posts, brainstorm ideas, do site maintenance, and whatever else I need to do. At 10, I move onto my next project, which at the moment is editing an e-book I’m going to release this summer. When I finish that, I’ll replace Project #2 with something else. Project #3 is preparing an online course I’m teaching this summer. And so on.

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      You’ll note that around Thursday it breaks up; I need two hours for Lifehack Live, so I take that time from Project #2; on Friday, I’ve scheduled time to do laundry and other housework, and my weekly review. At the start of the week, then, I was careful to assign slots that wouldn’t get 5 hours to smaller projects.

      Notice, too, that I’ve added three email times per day. Let to my own devices, I’d check email constantly throughout the day; this is my way of reminding myself to stick to the task at hand and check email right before I break for lunch and at the very end of my working day before I go to make dinner.

      The benefit of all this is that I can see at a glance how much time I’ve set aside for each project over the course of the week. If something new comes up, I can easily replace a project slot (or more, if necessary) with it and re-allot time as necessary. I’ve only got 8 projects on there; the last two are for family projects and would go in the weekend or evening time slots; at the moment, I don’t have any.

      Maybe This Will Work for You?

      Time striping won’t seem all that new to people who are already practicing time blocking — the only difference is that I try to keep the same projects at the same time every day, and the flexibility of having slots dedicated to generic projects instead of particular ones. That’s what works for me, and I think it might work well for some of you out there who are having a hard time getting a grip on your schedule. 

      Let me know if this is helpful, or if you have your own slightly off-beat way of working through your various projects.

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      Last Updated on November 5, 2019

      How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

      How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

      Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

      “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

      But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

      Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

      1. Always Have a Book

      It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

      Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

      2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

      We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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      Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

      3. Get More Intellectual Friends

      Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

      Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

      4. Guided Thinking

      Albert Einstein once said,

      “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

      Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

      5. Put it Into Practice

      Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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      If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

      In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

      6. Teach Others

      You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

      Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

      7. Clean Your Input

      Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

      I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

      Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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      8. Learn in Groups

      Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

      Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

      9. Unlearn Assumptions

      You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

      Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

      Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

      10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

      Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

      Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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      11. Start a Project

      Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

      If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

      12. Follow Your Intuition

      Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

      Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

      13. The Morning Fifteen

      Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

      If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

      14. Reap the Rewards

      Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

      15. Make Learning a Priority

      Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

      More About Continuous Learning

      Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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