Building a Time Mosaic

Most time management and productivity advice centers around working more effectively and prioritizing your most important tasks, projects, and goals. I agree with all of that, as I have written in my book: How to Organize Your Work and Your Life.

The problem remains, however, “What is the best way to do all that?”

There are many.

One of the ways I’ve found to make sure I work on all my high priority items is to turn my schedule into a time mosaic. A time mosaic ensures that you regularly work on all your high priority items, and helps prevent you from ignoring important tasks, projects, and goals while you mistakenly focus on just one or two urgent matters.

What’s more, a time mosaic allows you to shuffle and re-shuffle the priorities and time allocations of your most important tasks, projects, and goals as often as you need to. It’s a helpful way to make sure urgency and deadlines factor into your schedule without totally dominating other considerations, like importance, readiness, and the normal fluctuations in your capabilities.

Here’s how to build a time mosaic:

Identify Your High Priority Tasks, Projects, and Goals

You can’t schedule your work and your life comprehensively unless you include everything important that’s on your plate. So the first step in building a time mosaic is to work backwards from your goals to identify every task and project that deserves a portion of your time and effort.

If you can, it’s helpful to put this list in priority order. But since every item here is important, and since your time mosaic will help you work on all of them, exact priorities aren’t crucial.

Consider Appropriate Time Windows for Each One

The next step is to determine how long you can work productively, in one sitting, at each of your tasks, projects, and goals. This “session length” will vary depending on the type of work involved.

For example, you might be able to work on building a complex spreadsheet for several hours at a time. On the other hand, a “creative meeting” to develop a new product might peter out after just one hour. Delegating a task might take ten minutes, but with a well-understood project and task (anything from chopping wood to digitizing your files), you might be able to work a whole morning or afternoon at a stretch.

Of course, some tasks are simple enough that you can finish them in a single sitting. Others are so large that you’ll need to spend time on them, over and over again, during a period of several months or longer.

A few tasks involve processes that include their own time delays – like paint drying or getting a response from the IRS. Obviously, you cannot take the next step on one of these until it’s ready.

Consider all these factors and decide how much time you can generally devote in one sitting to each item on your list.

Slot Them into Your Schedule

Now organize these “sittings” into your schedule.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about the best sequence for your various tasks, projects, and goals. That’s mostly up to you. But you might want to consider:

  • Variety, so you don’t get bored doing the same kind of thing all day long.
  • Your “best” and “worst” times of the day. For example, if you’re sharpest in the morning, that might be a good time to slot in items that require the most intensive thinking and planning. When you’re less sharp, work on less-demanding routines.
  • The need for other resources. Some of your items might require use of a special tool, or a certain room or facility, or the cooperation and availability of other people. Obviously, you’ll want to consider such requirements when you slot these items into your time mosaic.   

Adjust to Suit

In most cases, there’s a lot of flexibility in exactly how you structure your time mosaic. You can move some or all of the items around as often as you wish.

This allows you make adjustments in your time mosaic in order to:

  • Take advantage of special opportunities.
  • Keep yourself from getting bored or falling into a rut.
  • Meet special needs for delivering results as urgency and priorities shift.
  • Better suit your capabilities, interests, and preferences.

The advantages of the time mosaic over more traditional “to do” lists and conventional scheduling are numerous:

  1. You need not wait until you complete each task before you can move on to the next one.
  2. You get to divide your days, weeks, and months among all the items you’re trying to accomplish, so none of them gets left behind.
  3. Because you’re time-limiting each session, you won’t feel as weary or burned out by any individual item.
  4. The variety of tasks, projects, and goals you’re working on keeps you fresh, interested, and motivated throughout the day.
  5. The flexibility of this system allows you to more easily take advantage of special opportunities and compensate for unexpected problems or delays.

I’d like you to try the time mosaic and let me know how well it works for you.

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