Blasting the Work-Life Gray Zone (Nancy Rielle’s Time Makeover)

(Today’s guest post comes from Nancy Rielle, who logged her time as part of the 168 Hours Challenge in September. We met over lunch a few weeks ago to discuss some tweaks. Here’s her take on the makeover. Enjoy! And go order some e-cards from her website!)

By Nancy Rielle

Greetings, 168ers! I’m Nancy Rielle, Co-founder of the ecard site, VerveCards.com, and winner of September’s 168 Hours Time Log Challenge Makeover. While I loved 168 Hours and found the 168- vs. 24-hour paradigm shift to be game changing, I noticed that there wasn’t anybody like me profiled in the book. I’m a single entrepreneur with a home office, so my days are a clean slate — no office hours or boss to answer to, no commute, and no kids or spouse to look after. As you can imagine, having zero built-in time constraints creates time management challenges of a different sort.

I found that Laura’s pre-meeting questions really cut to the chase, so I’ll share them here, together with my responses:

1. What do you like most about your schedule? Freedom to synch my schedule with my natural rhythms.

2. What do you want to do more of with your time? Have focused, prioritized work time and guilt-free personal time. Get rid of the Gray Zone where work just bleeds into everything — or I’m taking care of personal stuff and feeling guilty about not working.

3. What do you want to get off your plate? Housekeeping/errands/personal upkeep. (Also, my place is always a mess. It drags me down and impacts my productivity and peace of mind.)

4. Fill in the blank: “I spend way too much time on___!”: Metaphorically standing at a 4-way intersection spinning my head around not knowing which direction to take next.Also, setting up schedules, then not adhering to them.

Ironically, the week’s time log that we dissected was comically atypical – and made me feel like a bit of a liar, as there was no shortage of “non-business pursuits” in this particular slice of my life! I did zero work over the weekend, which is not my norm. (Saturday was taken up by an out-of-town memorial, and Sunday was, horror of horrors, all about fun – a performance and late lunch for a friend’s birthday, followed by a first date for drinks, which turned into dinner – and two other dates later in the week!)

Yes, after a year of being single, suddenly I have a non-business pursuit who’s about 5’11, 180 lbs. and a lot more fun than being glued to my computer! So, now he’ll be vying for some of my 168 hours, as well. Hmmmm, where to slot him in?

Despite the abnormal log, certain patterns and areas for improvement emerged that we were able to work with:

Make lists doable, not daunting – Monday mornings I do make a prioritized work To Do List for the week, but it’s so friggin’ huge that there’s no way I could possibly plow through it. Laura pointed out that this is just self-defeating and suggested a few tweaks here:

  • Use Sunday night, instead of Monday morning, to reflect on the question, “What would make this a good week?”
  • Set personal goals that are as ambitious and engaging as your work goals, and weave them into a good mix of professional and pleasurable items for the week. A combo of 3 professional and 2 personal goals per day – with one of the personals being exercise – is a good place to start. And, of course, the List of 100 Dreams is fertile hunting ground for the other pleasurable items.
  • Daily To Do Lists should be set the night ahead, as well, instead of the morning of. The ideal time is when you’re wrapping up the prior work day — when you’re clearest on where you’ve left off and where you need to pick up the following day.

Stay on top of housekeeping in manageable increments – Provided your home is basically clean, which mine is (I’d eat gruel before giving up my couple hours of every-other-week cleaning help), Laura suggested this minimalist approach to taming clutter and mess:

  • One hour of housekeeping on Sunday to start the week with an orderly home and office.
  • 15 minutes a day for basic tidying up to keep all Hell from breaking loose.
  • Keep horizontal surfaces clutter free — even if the drawers look maniacal.

I found that list making beforehand – Sunday night for the week ahead and the night prior for the next day – really helped me hit the ground running each morning with clear intention. Setting beginning and end times for the work day (8:00 a.m. at my desk and 5:00 pm off to the gym or power walking) bookended that part of my life in a definitive way, too. I’m still not Martha Stewart on the homemaking front by any stretch, but I made some headway with the incremental tidying up.

In the same way that food tracking has become second nature to me through WeightWatchers, my aim is to integrate time tracking as a way of life, as well. Both are simple ways to stay mindful — and it’s just too easy to mindlessly shove food into your mouth — or fritter away time — unless there’s some accountability (for me, anyway).

I learned that I’m way more non-linear than I even suspected — and that having the week blocked out beforehand, then tracking against that, is a great way to stay on course. Besides, writing everything down in a table really appeals to my process-oriented inner Rainman!

Thanks, Laura, for this opportunity to tear apart and put back anew a part of my life that needed a serious overhaul – my relationship to time!

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