Fragmentation

Effective time-management means taking big goals, breaking them down into doable chunks, and then getting those tasks on the schedule.

But what defines a “doable chunk”?

I have been pondering this lately as I realize just how fragmented I have — through various choices — made my life. Because I work from home, I can eat lunch with my kids. That’s great, and I enjoy it, but it also means they expect it, and so even on busy days I tend not to grab a sandwich and hunker at my desk, which is what I did when Jasper was in daycare. I feed the baby every three hours. Sometimes I do school runs. I need to exercise for my own sanity (and as part of the Gladwyne Diet). But that’s another chunk out of my day. And then there’s the inevitable illnesses, doctor visits and dental visits.

Many people have trouble concentrating for more than 90 minutes at a stretch, but as a result of this fragmentation, I’m lucky to get an hour. So doable chunks need to be incredibly doable.

Fortunately, I’ve learned you can do more in fragmented spurts than I used to think. I can crank out a blog post at one time and post it at another. I can make a list of people to email for a column in one chunk of time, and email them in another. Phone interviews fit into other chunks. I’ve realized I don’t need a whole day to crank out an article or column. If I budget a whole day, I’ll probably have time to pursue other goals later on. I often edit the next day (to give me some mental space from what I just wrote). I come up with my ideas while running. Because I’ve started realizing how much can get done in small spurts, I’ve started seizing available spurts to build up my blog post surplus.

Of course, fragmentation isn’t good for some things. I’m not sure I could write a book with this schedule. I’m not making much progress on that novel. But little bits of time do add up to big bits of time and, eventually, to getting things done.

What do you do in bits of time?

(photo courtesy flickr user Images_of_Money)

13 thoughts on “Fragmentation

  1. As a homeschooling mom of four, I definitely get where you’re coming from!

    I sneak in little tasks all the time…start a load of laundry, fold a load, wipe a counter, wash a few dishes, take some pictures for a blog post, correct a math paper, etc. If I didn’t make a habit of this, I’d get SO behind.

    1. @Kristen – yes, that would be some serious fragmentation! But everyone will grow up eventually. Thirty years from now they’ll go days without calling me. So life will be less fragmented… but I’ll probably miss this.

  2. Sounds like you’re doing a great job juggling it all. Like you, I’ve been working to be more productive with the time I have and when I’m organized, I see how much I truly can get done, even with the fragmentation!

    1. @Heather- I think this is why organization has become the religion of the modern era. It holds the promise that life will be simple. Not true, but at least knowing where you can find certain papers makes it feel more Zen…

  3. The home office has pluses and cons. No inter offices politics or distractions but often there are other challenges! I think the making a list or this idea that you preplan what you do before you start. I never did that before kids and now I do and the more I can mentally stay close to those tasks the more I feel I can judge my progress for that day. This also lets you know when you feel you can stop for the day etc or if you get extra time (my husband unexpectedly picked kids up at daycare yesterday, I had something in the list that I could finish that is close to my main revenue goals, main projects). THis is kind of similar to that never check your email in the morning idea that you control what gets done not the email inbox etc.do I still spend too much time on email and other distractions (like your blog and facebook!) yes but I have the things to come back to. Long term I think this is why working motherhood could make you MORE productive.

    1. @Cara- the LauraVanderkam.com blog is a totally approved distraction 🙂 Let’s call it career research. That sounds better, right?

  4. I feel fragmented all the time–on bad days it drives me up the wall because I feel like I can’t think straight. On good days, I’m grateful to have so many (mostly) enjoyable things to do. I rarely try to work at one thing for longer than an hour, and I sometimes use my kitchen timer when I want to either 1) keep from being sucked into the internet or 2) make myself write when I “don’t feel like it.” When I do have a bigger project that gets a longer chunk of time, I usually find I quite enjoy it!

    1. @Kathy – I kind of like the kitchen timer idea. Sometimes I find myself wasting the long stretches I do have poking around the Internet. Not necessarily the best use of the time I have both hands free!

  5. Hi Laura,

    In little bits of time, I like to try to tackle something on my to-do list. I keep the list next to my computer and try to knock something off of my list while I nurse the baby or have a bit of time to myself. I’m not perfect at this, though.

    Facebook can be a bit of a distraction for me…especially after the kids go to bed, but I’m working on it! 🙂 I’m going to start setting a timer for myself and only alone myself 20 minutes a day for facebook.

    1. @Sandra- Oh, Facebook. The time suck that didn’t even exist before 2003 or 2004 (I forget). What did we do with our time before then? What did we do before email and the internet? I love seeing how people have redistributed their time over the years, just like people have redistributed money. In the US, away from food as a percentage of income and to electronic gadgetry (and health care).
      I think I need the Facebook timer too.

  6. This really resonates with me. My son wasn’t well over the weekend so I knew I would have to take him to the doctor’s this morning which would be a chunk out of my working day. When I was lying awake last night worrying how I would fit everything in today, I started planning in my head what needed to be done for a big job I’ve got on today.
    10 minutes of ‘work’ in the middle of the night meant that I got up early with a clear head and made a start on the job whilst he was still asleep. It also meant I stopped worrying about it and went back to sleep quickly.

    Long gone are the days of work being confined to 9-5 and fortunately I have an enlightened employer who realises that!

    1. @Nicola – very true. I can’t count on 9-5 being uninterrupted at all… so I wind up working workday evenings from about 9-10:30, and cranked out some content in bits and pieces over the weekend. A session on Saturday morning while the older kids were getting their hair cut with dad, and on Sunday afternoon while they were out with him too and I had the baby. I’m still trying to figure out the right schedule for getting everything done but I know I need to be better organized about it.

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