Time Mapping Through Transition

Posted on July 4, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , |

Since reading (okay, listening on audio-book) Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing From the Inside Out, I’ve been fascinated with the concept of time as an arithmetic equation. That is, there are 24 hours in a day and try as we might, we cannot put 25 hours of activities into it. We can steal from other activities, but ultimately, if you want to do 25 hours worth of stuff (technical term) in a 24-hour period, it doesn’t add up. This is an important first concept.

Next, consider life maintenance activities, I call them LMAs for short. Within the course of any day or week, there are things we have to do to support our existence — things like sleeping, eating, hygiene, housework, paying bills, maintenance work, etc. These are things for which we can get great joy if we have the right attitude. I’m familiar with the zen-like state that comes while so focused on a mundane chore like cleaning the oven that I lose track of time and location. Even if you can’t seem to use the activity as a trance producing state of ease, the LMA must still be done.

Finally, over the past few years I’ve developed a belief that work and job are two different things. A job is something I do for money to support my lifestyle while work is something that feeds my soul, it can be either job or non-job related. For instance, when I’m doing “men’s work” or “volunteer work” I’m not getting paid, but these things feed my soul. Even when I am on-the-job though, I may still do things that feed my soul. Helping a colleague solve a problem or create a plan for example. But there are some job-related activities that do not provide intrinsic reward, I treat these activities like paying taxes — I gotta do ’em even if I don’t wanna do ’em.The rest of this article is about how I have learned to apply these two concepts to a spreadsheet to create a time map. My mind has operated within the scope of time mapping for a long time, but to achieve the infamous mind like water state that comes from expert organization, it is important to get this activity out of ones head. Enter the time map.

First Exposure

I worked for large corporations for most of the past 29 years. During that time I evolved into a project management position working with resources around the globe and subject matter that took PhD-level scientists and engineers to fully appreciate so I could create training delivered through a complex learning management system in (mostly) an eLearning format. At any given time, I juggled a dozen or more projects representing 1000’s of hours and worth 100,000’s of dollars. It was very exciting… but very nervous making.

Collecting Data

Out of self-defense, I conducted a personal time study in 2006 that changed everything. Building a spreadsheet with days listed on the X-axis and 15-minute increments of time down the Y-axis, I created 12 category codes and 4 venues or contexts (face-to-face, telephone, computer and in-transit). I recorded when I awoke, performed LMA’s, worked on various projects and so on for 15 random days over a six week period. I memorized the codes and categories so I could code my day without much thought or interruption to activities I was doing. If I was in a 2-hour meeting, I’d record the code in the 8 boxes when I was done. I found it best to use a paper and pencil for collection as I was not always near a computer… or so I thought.

The Analysis

Due to the two-part coding, I could sort the data many different ways (e.g., 1A meant I was doing LMA’s in person, while 2A meant I was doing LMA’s over the phone) and their descriptions made it easy to see what was “job” related and what was not.

Typical Corporate Work Week

Chart A: Typical Corporate Work Week

Realizing I spent about half of my employment time in solo activities — computer work for the most part — I learned to block out the afternoons for “personal productivity” time. I marked Friday as busy as well for development, planning and personal productivity time. See Chart A for a snapshot of what a typical work week looked like over about a two year period. For the really curious, I published a more complete summary of my time study too.

Its probably less important to see what is being done on any given day since your week will hardly look anything like mine did! Instead, look at the large blocks of time and the uniformity of the color. These colors reflect related activities. On the blocks labeled as “Work (productivity)” my Outlook calendar reflected busy. Anyone wanting an appointment during this time had to speak to me directly or expect I would not attend their meeting. If I scheduled an appointment during this block of time, I grabbed a comparable amount of morning time for personal productivity work.

The World Turned On Its Ear

Just before the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday, I was told to find another job — I was being laid off. I started my job search immediately, but the economy was in its worst condition in decades and jobs were hard to find. Every day was different and unpredictable. I gave myself permission to live every day without structure other than walking the dog and looking for work. No time maps exist for this period as I was living without patterns.

Slowly over the next seven months I pieced together first one, then a second and finally a third set of options. Each set getting progressively closer to where I wanted to be financially, professionally and personally. But Chart B reflects just how complicated that next chapter promised to be… I put a time map together for the sole purpose of figuring out if I could actually fit everything in! I could, but just barely. It took a lot of faith to believe I had the self discipline to pull this next phase off.

Chart B: The "Next" Phase - PLANNED

Chart B: The "Next" Phase - PLANNED

Notice the addition of several new colors, most notably, red. I discovered during the transition from a long-time corporate job to a job search that I had to perform my planning on the weekend. The weekday time was too precious and unpredictable to leave it to a Monday morning or Friday afternoon task (which it had been earlieer when things were more simple.) There was also a conscious plan to re-insert “fun” into my week as noted by the orange squares. The addition of yellow “class” times denoted the extra commitment I was taking on at OSU. As it turned out, the reality of the coming phase was quite different — but at least I knew I could make it all fit. Remember the arithmetic time equation!

On To Reality

Three weeks after going from 0 to 1.5 jobs, I’m finding the pattern. While somewhat “informed” by the second map above, my reality as shown in Chart C has been a little different.

Chart C: My Time After Transition

Chart C: Time After Transition

There is noticeably less orange (fun and social time) and the yellow is more broken up around the week. The blue (State of Oregon Department of Human Services – DHS) time is fitted into the evenings through most of the week. Finally, my sleep hours are down from 7 per day to 6. I’ve somewhat compensated in the weekends by having a nap in the morning after walking the dog and/or exercising.

Making It All Work

Buried in the story of my personal transition are a few useful lessons I think apply to most transitions and I have found confidence in using time maps to chart the course:

  1. Time is an arithmetic equation. You can only fit 24 hours into each day no matter how hard you try to multi-task or otherwise kill yourself.
  2. Life’s maintenance activities (LMAs) have to get done. My LMAs are generally hidden in the gray “eat” or “walk” periods of the map and (unfortunately) sometimes in the black “sleep” periods. A little here and a little there goes a long way to keeping life in order.
  3. Don’t let your job get in the way of your work! Separating these concepts allowed me to see my day quite differently. If I’m helping a client at DHS and finding joy in the experience, I’m doing my work — Hooray!
  4. Your time map will have two scales, usually adjacent to each other. For me, planning works best in days grouped by weeks. I’ve spoken to clients whose week-to-week activities are unique but follow a similar pattern throughout any given month.
  5. Look for opportunities to multi-task constructively. My iPod has become an integral part of making things work for me. Because I walk the dog nearly two hours per day, I can catch up on news and interesting topics (podcasts) or expand my knowledge (audio-books). But trying to walk the dog while catching up with friends has proven more difficult. Sometimes what appears easy, isn’t. Let your actual experience guide you.
  6. Stay flexible and get creative, things always work differently than you expect. Notice how broken and fragmented Chart B is compared to C and especially A. I feared I was in-over-my-head. By being flexible and thinking creatively things have worked out a lot more smoothly than I expected.
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One Response to “Time Mapping Through Transition”

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HHMMMM…..(-: HI. The posting date is July 4th. For some reason, for the first time in a long time, you’ve been on my mind. I heard a song today, from 13 years ago….I decided to see if you were around. OSU? me too. I’ve been back for a year, construction manager in FS. Let’s catch up, it’s been a long time. Sheri


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