There is a well known philosophy around time management that uses the analogy of filling up a beach bucket–it goes something like this:

Bucket on Beach
Image by Susie Underwood via FlickrSecond, the smaller rocks and pebbles

First, put in the large big rocks
Second, the smaller rocks and pebbles
Then the sand
And finally, fill up the rest of the bucket with water.

You will end up with a very full bucket–much more full than if you had tried filling your bucket in a different order.  The idea is to approach your time with the same way.

Take the really big important items and set aside time for those things first.
Then fill your time with other key tasks
The sand and water are the inevitable small everyday things that end up using up your day.

I have been trying to apply this to my time (since I often feel very busy–I rarely have time for lunch) to make sure that I am setting aside the time for the truly important things in my life (such as following my dreams, taking care of myself, and enjoying time with my friends and family), but also accomplishing the important tasks (especially some strategic work at my job); and not getting distracted with the hundreds of everyday things that come up (like running errands, handling urgent issues, paper work, phone calls, etc).

To do this I developed my own little system.  Each month or every couple of months (monthly works well for me right now since my life seems fairly unpredictable a year or two from now) I lay out the important things I really want to do–such as take a weekend trip, schedule a family dinner, read a certain book, or perhaps attend a special event and assign deadlines to each one.  And depending on the “task” I will even block off time or schedule them in advance.  This is how I place my big rocks in the bucket.  I track my rocks with an excel spreadsheet on my computer.

Then each week I lay out the key goals/tasks I want to accomplish this week.  Typically I include a couple of “stretch” tasks and sometimes I do manage to complete all of them.  These may be things like specific projects at work or at home, important meetings, or even things like workouts.  I then try to assign deadlines and set aside time to get these done.  These are my pebbles.  I track these with a to do list on my phone.

And the sand and water?  Well that is everything else that happens each day.  I tend to write little tasks or reminders on post-its (particularly at the office) and sometimes at home too.  Since these things tend to come up each day I don’t really have a long term track of these and for the most part these things don’t give me a big sense of accomplishment–but they sure do feel my bucket!

How do you stay organized and manage your time?  My system seems to work alright for me and it does help me feel more productive overall, but I would say that I don’t have a good track record or mechanism for tracking these things further out.  I think there is definitely room for improvement, what do you think?

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