“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” Theophrastus

With only so much time on this world, it’s in our best interest to use it wisely. Even with best intentions, I often find myself feeling like I could have spent my time better. These thoughts typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Missed goals: You wanted to get something done this week/month/year, but it didn’t happen. Now you find the task repeatedly slipping to the next week.
  2. Lost time: It’s a long day, and hour 5 fades into hour 6. Next thing you know it’s the end of the day and you wonder where the time went.
  3. Poor Use: People need you, emails need responses, events run over. By the end of the day, you’ve spent your time on a bunch of things you never intended to spend time on.

I believe it is important to life my life with intention. I want to make sure that my time in this world is spent how I want it, and not how others or circumstances dictate. I believe that the best way towards personal freedom is by exercising your free will, refusing to let “life get in the way”. Life is what you make it. This blog post is about how I try to take control over my own life.

1. Goal Setting

The first thing I do is set regular yearly, quarterly, weekly, and daily goals. You only have 24 hours in a day, so it’s important to make time for the things you actually want to do. You won’t get it perfect the first time you do this. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll try to pack too many things in. As you do this again and again, you’ll learn to calibrate what is possible in a period of time. In the long term, it is important to set regular achievable goals.

Remember to scope in everything in your life you want to do, including work, exercise, social activities, hobbies, sleep, preparation time, and even downtime. A common mistake is to underestimate how much downtime you need, but keep in mind, we’re all human.

Start with broad plans for the year. Then, at the beginning of each quarter and week, enumerate goals that align with the yearly goals.

Year
Finish my thesis
Learn how to eat fire
Quarter
Write XYZ paper
Have lunch with 3 new people
Go windsurfing 2x
Week
Finish these docs {X,Y,Z}
Read 2 academic papers
Go to the gym 2x
Day
Write time management blog post
Do laundry
Setup meetings for the next week

2. Pomodoro

Now that you have a general plan, it is time to schedule your day. I like to split my day into 30 minute chunks of time, which I manage with Pomodoro. It follows 5 simple steps:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End the work when the timer rings and take a short break (3-5 minutes)
  5. Go back to step 2. If it has been 2 hours since your last long break, take a 30 minute break.

Then I put every 30-minute block on the calendar. It’s too common for random emails to eat up huge chunks of your day. Don’t let this happen to you, adhere to a strict budget so you balance the (important, not urgent), along with the (urgent, not important). You can always add more time to respond to certain emails in a following day, balanced with your other priorities.

Day
07:30-08:00 Get Ready
08:00-08:30 Commute
08:30-09:30 See doctor
09:30-10:30 Lab tests
10:30-13:30 Work on job talk
13:30-14:30 Systems seminar
14:30-15:30 Security seminar
15:30-16:00 Break
16:00-17:30 Practice talk
17:30-19:00 Gym
19:00-19:30 Dinner
19:30-20:00 Commute
20:00-21:00 Emails
21:00-23:00 Revise paper

3. Time Accounting

At the end of the week, sum up the hours you spend on everything. At the end of the quarter, I summarize everything I’ve accomplished. At the end of the year, I tally up time spent on large items and plan for the new year.

Week
10 hours - Build/setup new server
2 hours - Write thesis introduction
20 hours - Write thesis background
8 hours - Conference submission rebuttal
9 hours - Prepare job talk
8 hours - Blacksmithing
Quarter
Write first 2 thesis sections
Finished job talk
Traveled to LA
Job interviews at A,B,C,…
Year
4 months - Talek paper and implementation
3 months - Thesis writing and defense
4 months - Faculty job applications
0.5 months - Take class
0.5 months - Prepare talk for XYZ conference
Sailed to Blake Island
Backpacked the Olympics
Traveled Europe
Finished AutoCAD tutorials

Iterate

It’s important to remember that this is a continual practice. You won’t be perfect and the first few times you do this, it’ll be rough. It’s important to both iterate and practice on achievable goals. Think of it as pacing in the marathon of life. It takes repetition to build it into a habit. And if you slip, don’t fret; just recenter, readjust, and try again. Hopefully, these tips will help you focus on the things that matter to you.