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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.

      More by this author

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      Last Updated on October 30, 2018

      How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

      How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

      Who needs Tony Robbins when you can motivate yourself? Overcoming the emotional hurdle to get stuff done when you’d rather sit on the couch isn’t always easy. But unless calling in sick and waking up at noon have no consequences for you, it’s often a must.

      For those of you who never procrastinate, distract yourself or drag your feet when you should be doing something important, well done so far! But for the rest of you, it’s good to have a library of motivational boosters to move along.

      Whether you’re starting a buisiness, trying to los weight or breaking a bad habit, you’ll learn how to motivate yourself with different techniques in this article.

      13 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself Right Now

      Despite your best efforts, passion, habits and a flow-producing environment can fail. In that case, it’s time to find whatever emotional pump-up you can use to get started:

      1. Go back to “why”

      Focusing on a dull task doesn’t make it any more attractive. Zooming out and asking yourself why you are bothering in the first place will make it more appealing.

      If you can’t figure out why, then there’s a good chance you shouldn’t bother with it in the first place.

      2. Go for five

      Start working for five minutes. Often that little push will be enough to get you going.

      3. Move around

      Get your body moving as you would if you were extremely motivated to do something. This ‘faking it’ approach to motivation may seem silly or crude but it works.

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      4. Find the next step

      If it seems impossible to work on a project for you, you can try to focus on the next immediate step.

      Fighting an amorphous blob of work will only cause procrastination. Chunk it up so that it becomes manageable. Learn how to stop procrastinating in this guide.

      5. Find your itch

      What is keeping you from working? Don’t let the itch continue without isolating it and removing the problem.

      Are you unmotivated because you feel overwhelmed, tired, afraid, bored, restless or angry? Maybe it is because you aren’t sure you have time or delegated tasks haven’t been finished yet?

      6. Deconstruct your fears

      I’m sure you don’t have a phobia about getting stuff done. But at the same time, hidden fears or anxieties can keep you from getting real work completed.

      Isolate the unknowns and make yourself confident, you can handle the worst case scenario.

      7. Get a partner

      Find someone who will motivate you when you’re feeling lazy. I have a friend I go to the gym with. Besides spotting weight, having a friend can help motivate you to work hard when you’d normally quit.

      8. Kickstart your day

      Plan out tomorrow. Get up early and place all the important things early in the morning. Building momentum early in the day can usually carry you forward far later.

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      Having a morning routine is a good idea for you to stay motivated!

      9. Read books

      Read not just self-help or motivational books but any book that has new ideas. New ideas get your mental gears turning and can build motivation. Here’re more reasons to read every day.

      Learning new ideas puts your brain in motion so it requires less time to speed up to your tasks.

      10. Get the right tools

      Your environment can have a profound effect on your enthusiasm. Computers that are too slow, inefficient applications or a vehicle that breaks down constantly can kill your motivation.

      Building motivation is almost as important as avoiding the traps that can stop it.

      11. Be careful with the small problems

      The worst killer of motivation is facing a seemingly small problem that creates endless frustration.

      Reframe little problems that must be fixed as bigger ones or they will kill any drive you have.

      12. Develop a mantra

      Find a few statements that focus your mind and motivate you. It doesn’t matter whether they are pulled from a tacky motivational poster or just a few words to tell you what to do.

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      If you aren’t sure where to start, a good personal mantra is “Do it now!” You can find more here too: 7 Empowering Affirmations That Will Help You Be Mentally Strong

      13. Build on success

      Success creates success. When you’ve just won, it is easy to feel motivated about almost anything. Emotions tend not to be situation specific, so a small win, whether it is a compliment from a colleague or finishing two thirds of your tasks before noon can turn you into a juggernaut.

      There are many ways you can place small successes earlier on to spur motivation later. Structuring your to-do lists, placing straightforward tasks such as exercising early in the day or giving yourself an affirmation can do the trick.

      How to Stay Motivated Forever (Without Motivation Tricks)

      The best way to motivate yourself is to organize your life so you don’t have to. If work is a constant battle for you, perhaps it is time to start thinking about a new job. The idea is that explicit motivational techniques should be a backup, not your regular routine.

      Here are some other things to consider making work flow more naturally:

      Passion

      Do things you have a passion for. We all have to do things we don’t want to. But if life has become a chronic source of dull chores, you’ve got a big problem that needs fixing.

      Not sure what your passion is to get you motivated? This will help you:

      How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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      Habits

      You can’t put everything on autopilot. I’ve found putting a few core habits in place creates a structure for the day.

      Waking up at the same time, working at the same times and having a similar productive routine makes it easier to do the next day.

      This guide will be useful for you if you’re looking to build good habits:

      Understand Your Habits to Control Them 100%

      Flow

      Flow is the state where your mind is completely focused on the task at hand. While there are many factors that go into producing this state, having the right challenge level is a big part.

      Find ways to tweak your tasks so they hover in that sweet spot between boredom and maddening frustration.

      Easily distracted and hard to focus? Here’s your solution.

      Final Thoughts

      With all these tips I’ve shared with you, now you know what to do when you’re feeling unmotivated.

      Find your passion and develop a positive mantra so when the next time negativity hits you again, you know how to stay positive and motivated!

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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