How You’re Using Your Day-Planner Wrong: Get Better At Working From Home (Part 2)

Do you struggle with time management?

If you often find yourself scrambling to get out the door in the morning, arriving late for almost everything, missing meals, forgetting important dates; you most likely are bad at time management.

Being bad at managing our time can not only hurt our productivity, but also our relationships and quality of life— it can even lead to us disappointing the people we care about most.

I don’t often miss my bus, but when I do it puts a damper on my day because the next one won’t come for 30 minutes, making me late.

What if this happened every day?

I would be miserable. I would dread catching the bus every day because I would always miss it. Rather than missing my bus, I just give myself way more time to catch it.

I don’t have a special routine. I don’t have to wake up at 5am (you can’t get me out of bed until at least 8am, if you’re lucky). 

So what’s my secret?

My day planner… That’s it!

Even though it’s one of the first things (and arguably the only things) we learn in elementary school, time management escapes us.

If you remember your school timetable—or maybe you still have one in the form of a calendar planner—it was or is the thing that rules your life. It tells you where to be and what you’re doing at every hour of the (school/work) day.


As adults of a planning-mindset, we usually adopt a day-planner to manage our lives.

But did you know you’re probably using it wrong?

What your daily planner IS NOT FOR:

  • To do lists of what to do each day—this isn’t useful because it doesn’t tell you WHEN and HOW LONG you’re doing those things on your list. 
  • Items without dedicated time intervals. If you don’t know how long something will take, set an amount of time (i.e. 2 hours) to work on it—try setting a timer and don’t break your concentration until it goes off.
  • Items that are not actionable: they have to be broken down into smaller tasks in order to be completed.

These things are what make us realize at the end of the day that we only got through half of what we planned to accomplish; we always plan too much in one day when we fall into these ‘productivity traps’.

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The Importance Of Time-management Skills When Working From Home

‘Productivity traps’ are what make us feel busy all day, but leave us disappointed by what we finished (or didn’t) that day.

Things like chasing ‘vanity metrics’, we’re pouring our energy into things that don’t reward us the most when we don’t plan our days.


So what’s the big secret that’s transformed how I think about my time and productivity?

Two words my friend: time-blocking. Or is that two words? Whatever.

Learning about time-blocking is what started to totally change how I work. I never feel like I’m wasting my time. 

It’s given me the freedom as a freelancer to be more present; I don’t feel like I have to be glued to my phone because I know when I need to be… I scheduled it.


So how can you get better at time management right now?

If you haven’t already, you should really read my Part 1 of this post before going any further! If you haven’t done any time-tracking, time-blocking will be a failure.

Why?

Because you need to know what you do with your time first.

So go read that post right now if you need to learn what time-tracking is along with my tips and favourite apps to get started!

Now I’ve been raving for a while, but what’s the big deal?

You might be thinking “I’m self-employed and don’t need a schedule”, but that would be a huge mistake!

Our minds tend to segment things — to break them off into smaller chunks, so they’re easier for our brains to digest. This can naturally make it difficult to accurately track your time.

We sit down and draw for an hour, but it feels like it’s been minutes. Or, you’ll be at work for an hour and feel like you’ve been there all day. 

Our animal brains have no real concept of time.

That’s why I find time-blocking so important.


Time-blocking is the act of delegating set amounts of time for the tasks you need to complete, but in as much detail and specific as possible.

Whether, it’s my work life or the activities I do in my free time, I like to keep track of the time I’m doing anything because it forces me to be present.

Applying time-blocking to my entire life — rather than just my work life — is what really kicked my productivity into gear this year. Extending this philosophy past the common conception of a ‘work day’, I found is where I starting seeing the most returns.

I force myself to take a moment to asses (or reassess) what I’m doing, how long I’ve been doing it, and if it’s a thing I should be doing.

Spending 3 hours drafting a comic is great, but three hours of ‘drafting a comic’ with nothing to show but a queue of watched Youtube videos is not. 

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Tracking your time alongside time-blocking will force to be in the present moment and will hold you accountable for how you use your time.

See how it all comes together?

I know this sounds totally neurotic and overkill, but I wouldn’t talk about it so much if it didn’t totally change my workflow.

Tracking all of my time has shown me a lot about how I work. It’s shown me:

  • What hours are my most productive
  • How long the regular tasks I do take
  • How much time I’m making for family and friends
  • What foods I like to eat and when

I’ve even figured out the best times of day to work on different projects.

I wouldn’t talk about it this much if it were no big deal.

I really want you try this too!

So, I’m going to break down how I effectively use my day planner so you can get better at time-management and get more time out of your day with time-blocking!

First off, I use colours to segment my day into the blocks I want. This is what my planner looks like before I even write in it:

I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know when I’m most productive and when I need to take breaks. I use the different colours to show that here! 

Having these blocks determined already really helps later in the week when I’m trying to remember when is the best times to pencil in clients, collaborate with others, and carve out time for intense ‘deep-work’ sessions.

When you time-block your entire day, make it look like a school time table, with clear hour blocks of time to write in. The acceptation here is it begins when you wake up, and stops when you go to sleep. This can even be done on plain notebook paper.

Things to include when doing this (including how long it takes to do it):

  • Wake up, get clean and dressed 
  • Make and eat Breakfast
  • Commute
  • Buying Groceries on your way home
  • Walking the dog after dinner
  • Binging YouTube tutorials, all of it

Everything you do doesn’t need to be productive, it shouldn’t be; it should just be what you want to accomplish. 

Whether you want to bake yourself cake and eat the whole thing, or go to the movies with an old friend — your time should be spent on things you’ve set out to do and not letting yourself go idle, losing hours to Netflix.

This is about what my day planner looks like after filling it out:

I give myself extra cushions of time to be sure I’m not late for things while still having time for regular tasks. When I have extra time I usually have a book on hand or an article I wanted to read online.

I leave some of my regular tasks out because I have notification reminders for them on my phone, or they’re already a part of my natural routine; things like watering my plants, doing dishes while I start dinner, and other household chores that take less than 30 minutes.

I suggest only planning 2-3 days in advance in this sort of detail, unless you have a regular job where you work a set amount of hours at the same time every day.

Now that I’m better at journalling and planning my days, I find myself planning in detail 4-5 days in advance. Any more than that is overwhelming for me — my queue can’t get too long or I get very stressed out.

I’m sure you can relate to that feeling of overwhelm, having so many things to do you can’t remember them all. That’s why writing it out is great.

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I do a brain dump at the end of every week of things I didn’t get done and things I need to finish the next week. I also think about new tasks I want to accomplish for the next week. 

I do this by referencing actionable items in my ‘brain dump’, allowing me to let go of my mental to-do list.

This allows me to concentrate on the task at hand, because I intentionally planned time to do it. Whether that’s enjoying playing video games or writing for my blog until my iPad dies, I no longer feel any guilt or weight on my shoulders because I know I’m doing what I set out to.


Planning my days this way has totally changed how I work and how I accomplish more of the things I want to do, faster.

I’m hoping this in-depth walk-through of my day planner has convinced you the impact of time-blocking to improve your productivity and quality of work, and life.

If you found this article helpful I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments! This is a much longer piece than I usually write and I would love to know what you think, or what you would like to see more of in the future.

Until next time,

-J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

Why Artists Need To Be Tracking Their Time To Work More Effectively

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What does an Artist actually do?

You might think that being an artist means sleeping in every day, sketching strangers in Starbucks while sipping over-priced lattes, leisuring around local galleries, and shopping in boutique art-supply stores.

You would be right! 

There’s a lot more to it than that, but these are all some of my favourite things to do that are technically considered a part of my job

But, I also get to do these things because I make time for them.

What you don’t see is somebody sucked into a project that has them up until 3am, spending hours on applications to get your work published, making content for social media, and so many more things go into being an artist and how we spend our time.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

If you didn’t know, I used to be a scientist.

I worked in a lab, wrote and carried out reports, mixed solvents, tested pH levels, distillated liquids… the works. 

When I was in College and had to write up a term-paper, preform a lab, or begin a test, I would always know where to start.  I would glance around a few questions in, and a lot of the class was struggling — unable to find where to begin.

I also see this phenomenon bleeding over into my adult life during networking events, workshops, seminars, and problem solving situations in general.


So what make some of us more productive than others?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

People who get more done, don’t have more time than you. Beyonce has 24 hours in her day, just like everyone else on this planet.

I wasn’t finishing my tests first and handing in my assignments early because I was smarter than anyone else, it’s because I was focusing my time on the right things; the material we were actually being marked on! 

That means I would spend most of my time ONLY working on the tasks that got me the most marks.

Only if there was extra time would I go answer every question and flesh out every answer, but in my experience the farther you get into education the more you have to complete in less allotted time.

This strategy got me Deans’ Honours every year I was in college, so it might work for you too.


Back then, I used to describe it as “being picky with my time”.

Now it looks more like declining events outside of my niche to cut losses, only working with people who value my work to the benefit of my mental health, and namely; no longer trying to please everyone who looks at my artwork, reads my writing, or otherwise has an opinion on what I make.

By “being picky with my time”, I was actually accidentally applying the 80/20 Principle by spending 80% of my study/prep time on the most impossible 20% of the material. 

There were times where I would not do tests and quizzes entirely and willingly, and severely stressing out my peers — to increase my efforts on something worth much more, and was lacking the resources for.

Saving time allowed me to put spend my extra time refining every detail for more marks, or to move onto the next thing sooner than anticipated.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

Are you still unconvinced?

What if I told you that saving time allows me to make more merchandise, shop locally for my supplies, and now even have an office outside of my home — that my business can actually pay for?

All because I have the extra time to dedicate to marketing and diversifying my income. I even have the free time to make all of my own foods from scratch!


I’ve been talking about the 80/20 rule for a while now, but what’ is it and how can we use it to our advantage?

Originally known as The Pareto Principle, The 80/20 rule demonstrates that in most things you do, 20% of your results come from 80% of your efforts. But, that can also mean that 80% of your results can come from 20% of your efforts!

80% of the knowledge of a book is in the right 20% of the pages. Read the introduction, conclusion, and the jump back to any interesting bits. Never read cover-to-cover, unless for pleasure.

the 80/20 Principle: The secret of achieving more with less
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Kaboompics.

You might be wondering now, how to make this happen for you. How can you apply this to your own work-life?

It starts with knowing what you do with your time.

You will need to spend a week or two tracking everything you do with your time. Everything! Binging on YouTube, reading a magazine, riding the bus to the grocery store… all of it!

Here are some of the best free productivity time-tracking apps on the internet:

  • My absolute favourite is Toggl. I’ve been using it for a long time and works across all of my iOS devices — it’s great for individuals, but can also be used for teams as well! It send PDF reports to my inbox every Monday telling me what I accomplished (or didn’t) the past last week.
  • MyHours is another free app that provides free time-tracking for freelancers and teams as well as project tracking, time-editing for Admins, and generating reports that can be exported in PDF or CSV format (for Excel).
  • Harvest is a time-tracking app available for iOS, Android, and Mac and advertises to both individuals and large teams. Individuals are supported for free with a limit of up to two projects, and paid per person for employees. It seems like a limited free resource and expensive option, but if you’re a big enough company I’m sure the built-in invoicing, discounts for larger teams, and other interesting features are worth it.
  • Clockify claims it’s “The only truly free time tracker for teams” and is “free forever”. It appears to have all the usual features (a.k.a. a timer, organizing by project, and exportable reports), but also has a separate feature to mark you time as billable for invoicing purposes twitting the app. With the ability to invite an entire team, it gives you the ability to set your employees hourly rates, see their activity (which is probably how it’s free), and who worked on what (and where, also contributing to the nature of being a free app). It’s compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux; as well as iOS and Android.

Go download one of these apps right now!

Start using it to track you time for the next few days until part 2 of this article is published. Yes, there will be a part 2!


Today we talked about some of the big responsibilities as an art business owner, how the 80/20 rule can be used to your advantage when managing your time, and the importance of time-tracking with a list of the best apps I could gather — just for you!

5 Things You Need To Know About Time-Tracking
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My 5 Best Tips To Start Time-Tracking Better Now:

  • Your first week of time-tracking I suggest going about your daily life as you normally would and not being too self-aware of your time use.
  • Be as descriptive as possible with your entries.
  • Track what you’re doing as you’re doing it, not at the end of the day. You will vastly overestimate the amount of time you spent on working and assume less for your leisure time.
  • Your second week of time-tracking is when you should be mindful of what your doing by tracking in real-time.
  • Have your weekly reports sent to your email inbox and read them — print them out if necessary, but you have to read them.

Our minds tend to segment things — to break them off into smaller chunks, so they’re easier for our brains to digest. This can naturally make it difficult to accurately track your time. That’s why I stress tracking your time in-the-moment and not after you’re finished, or even worse, guessing at the end of the day.

Why?

Because we sit down and draw for thirty minutes and feels like it’s been an hour. Or in more extreme cases, you’ll be at work checking your emails for an hour and suddenly it’s almost time to go home.

Tracking my time gave me a feeling of more control over my life. It’s forced me to make more deliberate choices.

It’s shown me what I have the ability to accomplish and has pushed me to work harder and smarter.

Come back next week for Part 2 of this post where I talk about using time-tracking in tandem with time-blocking actions in your day planner to get the most out of your time — the method that made me more productive than ever!

Have More Time To Do The Things You Love
Have More Time To Do The Things You Love by reading TheArtistJounral.ca and sharing this on Pinterest!

Until then, I would love it if you checked out my Artist Lifestyle Instagram where I like to get personal and share my life in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I’ve started sharing my favourite vegan gluten-free recipes, thoughts on identity and gender, mental-health stories, artist productivity tips, book recommendations and more!

Until next time, 

-J