Motivation, Prioritizing, and Time Management

“Change is the only constant.” — Heraclitus

Thoughts and concerns about motivation and time management can be applicable to everyone, as can many elements of my entries; but it is especially applicable to autodidacts who usually are having to structure the majority of their lives themselves. If you know what I am talking about, you probably know that, while you prefer the freedom, it can get quite overwhelming to have to handle your entire life yourself; sometimes you wonder if you are getting anything done!!

Since I’ve had nearly 20 years of this struggle, I have my own two cents (and a little more) to say on the matter. The following is just from my experience, and I am not saying everyone should Here are some initial things you can do:

First thing’s first: get away from stagnant distractions, like the phone, e-mail, Facebook, nagging or loud family members or friends, etc. It won’t be rude if it is for the sake of your sanity and productivity levels.

Focus on something else. Whatever you do, get your mind off of obligations, and things requiring concentration and attention which you are just not able to give the ideal amount to. What do you do instead? Doing something physical – going on a bike ride, a run, baking a cake, splitting wood: work with your hands. It frees your brain and gets toxins out.

Once you’ve done that, then get it out – take an indefinite amount of time and write or talk to someone (if that someone does not mind) about whatever is on your mind. Detox your brain. Maybe you met a guy the other day and he thought you guys hit it off (you didn’t) and keeps calling you; this could be hindering your ability to be productive. Get it out.

If there is too much on your mind, it really does crowd your ability to concentrate. I noticed this when I didn’t journal for three days after journaling every day for three and a half weeks. My mind needed to sort through the occurrences of those days, as well as all the thoughts which had accumulated more and more every moment of those three days.

After distracting yourself and doing some spring cleaning:

Prioritize. Make lists (which can be structured in any way you wish; “list” is just an easy, generic term for whatever form of physical sorting works for you)of everything you feel like you need to do. This could be gotten out in the journaling if you did that as your detox. Don’t worry about getting everything in order. Just write down everything you feel like you need to do, or want to do, in the next day, week, or month (a month is probably the largest amount of time for which you should make detailed, prioritized plans).

Once you’ve made the list or lists, decide what is really important to you on them. Depending on time frames, others’ dependence on you, the immediacy, and other such factors, pick between 3 and 5 top priorities (oftentimes, 5 could still be spreading yourself too thin; for your own sake, try to keep it minimal). An example:

1. Wedding planning with Emily
2. 30 hours/wk at Best Buy
3. Training for the 10k in 3 weeks
4. Cooking through all Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks

This is what mine looks like at the time of writing this entry:

1. My housecleaner work-trade at The Ashland Hostel
2. Daily customer service for Sudoku Professor
3. Blogging for Life Without College
4. Writing and finishing a novel in 30 days

It is a little tempting to look at these priorities and commit yourself to them and nothing more. By no means must this happen! Give yourself a break. That is where the other things on your general “to do” list come into play. In your spare time, read “The Thirteenth Tale.” (Really. It’s amazing, and I am not getting paid to say that.) Journal, paint, or dance. Spend time with loved ones. Just always remember your priorities. Write them down and tape them on your bathroom mirror; whatever it takes.

This process can be done as many times as you need to. It may need to be done only once a month, or once every two months; or every other week, every week… it really does not matter, as long as you stay productive and sane.

By “productive,” I mean your definition of productive. The process is to make sure, for your sake, you get done what you need and want to. If you need to, I find that writing the ultimate goal next to the priority, or even the penultimate goal, or any relevant goal at all helps. It keeps the bigger picture in mind, and reminds you WHY these are the priorities in the first place.

– Wedding planning with Emily = BECAUSE I want her wedding to go down like she wants it to
– 30 hours/wk at Best Buy = BECAUSE I need money so I can travel to Thailand and work with elephants
– Training for the 10k = BECAUSE I want to be in shape, run and finish a race, and be better at running in general; BECAUSE I want to work up to running marathons by the time I am 26
– Cooking through Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks = BECAUSE I want to know how to cook many different things and therefore have the capacity to go to culinary school if I decide I want to
– Housecleaner work-trade = BECAUSE I can help out the owner of the hostel in the summer season and so I can have somewhere to stay till I leave for NY
– Sudoku Professor = BECAUSE I need to support myself, and to help out the family business
– Life Without College = BECAUSE I am passionate about this subject, want to get the word out, and now I have a following to stay loyal to!
– Novel in 30 days = BECAUSE I love writing, would like to get better, and I am very inspired in Ashland, Oregon

Making these lists works for me because I have goals that need to be concrete, and in front of my face; if goals are just floating around aimlessly in my brain, I cannot possibly focus on them. I am also an extremely flexible person – if I don’t watch myself, I will simply float off in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Going through this process and making these lists every couple of weeks keeps me grounded, while at the same time still allowing for spontaneity and plans to change, because I didn’t schedule anything. I only prioritized, which works best for me.

I would think this would work for an extremely non-flexible person as well. If anyone reading this is a super-organized person, I would love to know your thoughts on my little process. Do you think it (or something similar) would work for you? To me, it seems like a middle ground – something that, perhaps, could balance both the exceptionally flexible and the exceptionally scheduled. It creates more structure in the spontaneous person’s life; likewise, I would assume it could create more spontaneity in a structured person’s life.

Let me know what you think! What are some of your own ways of being more structured, or more spontaneous? Have you found strategies for clearing your mind, prioritizing, and finding motivation, which work for you?

~Jess

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4 responses to “Motivation, Prioritizing, and Time Management

  1. Great entry; a lot of this fits in nicely with how I already prioritize (or not) a lot of my work. A lot of this advice is especially useful if you’re a freelancer, or some other self-driven professional; not only do you need to be in charge of your own life, but then when you “go to work”, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a plan for yourself there too.

    As a matter of fact, I recently read an article on the subject, directed towards freelancers; you covered pretty much that entire article and a cherry on top, hah.

  2. I really like this post. I’ve tried several methods of organizing myself (I, like you, am a “float away” sort of person – I think a lot of writers are) and I also find the ones that don’t involve scheduling to be the most useful, because I’ll just look at a schedule and go “Meh” and chuck it. I’m less likely to do that with a list. Adding my *reasons* to the list is something I hadn’t done before and I think I’ll try that now.

    One thing that also helps me a lot is to write a “Did” list at the end of the day. This serves several purposes: It helps me remember what I did (I’m usually too lazy to fully journal a day), it helps me see *how much* I do in a day, and it also tends to motivate me to do more, because I know that writing “Spent six hours refreshing Facebook and chatting about pizza” is not going to feel very satisfying at the end of the day. And since it’s after the fact, there’s no way to “chuck it” – the activities are already done whether I write them down or not. The motivation is “Oh this will be so much fun to write down that I did it!”, not “Ugh, I really need to go do “. For me that’s a big difference.

  3. Yes, time management require a set of skill from putting plans into action. Write the things down, prioritize them can help to focus better. It is a good way to increase productivity. Learning how to evaluate and identify which thing come first is also an essential skill in managing our own time.

  4. I googled “college vs. autodidact” to get here. Prepping to write an article on the subject. What spawned it was a discussion I had with my boss. Already being in a career where constant learning is the only way to survive, I asked, “What is the benefit of finishing a B.S. if I’m already making the money of a B.S. graduate?” He gave me a rather elitist, ivory tower answer which I found unsatisfactory.

    As far as list making and self-organization goes, might I recommend Remember The Milk. It is quite possibly the best organization site on the interwebz.

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