Ask any group of patchwork quilters what they would like most, and the overwhelming answer will have something to do with making more time for quilting.
We all know that "making more time" is a fallacy. There are only 24 hours in a day. The key to having more time for quilting is better time management.
A long-time fan of To-Do Lists, I have a few suggestions to help you do just that--create more time in each busy day for your patchwork quilting.
The guidelines I offer below are my personal, tried and true, methods for managing a To-Do List. If you follow them closely and regularly, I can virtually guarantee that you will become a better time manager, have much greater control over the tasks that consume your time, and find more free time for quilting.
First, a word about digital tools to help you.
My to-do list on Apple Reminders changes constantly. To keep your to-do list alive and vibrant, a similar digital app will likely be the best option. A quick search of the "best to-do list apps" will turn up a host of excellent products including ToDoist, RememberTheMilk, Wunderlist, Evernote and more! Each product, whether free or paid, whether for computer, laptop or phone, has its own benefits and drawbacks. You must do your own shopping for a product that will serve you best.
The discussions that follow show you what to look for in any app you think to use. I do recommend, however, that you not pay for any such product until you are certain it possesses all the features you require. Instead, begin with any free app that came with your computer, laptop or phone, and upgrade only as and when necessary.
It is not at all necessary for you to use any digital device or application to help you build and maintain an active to-do list. You can write your to-dos on paper, but if you use my organizational system, you should make sure you have plenty of pencils (don't use pens), erasers and paper!
OK--enough preliminaries! Let's jump into the tips I promised you:
1. Know the differences between notes, a simple list, a project list and a to-do list.
Beginner time managers create a to-do list by jotting down any relevant thoughts they have.
Often, these ideas are mere notes.
Sometimes, they may form a simple list, like a list of clothing to pack for a journey or a list of quilts to include in an exhibition.
Frequently, what appears is a project, like "trip to France" or "guild exhibition."
Occasionally these ideas will be actual to-do tasks, like "pack for trip" or "call for quilts to be delivered."
It is most important that you learn to recognize the differences between such thoughts, and to put each thought into the right kind of receptacle.
Let's briefly consider each kind of list:
2. Simplify your to-do's.
I repeat myself for greater emphasis: "listed in its simplest possible form in your one and only To-Do List."
For example, "walk the dogs around the block four times, then cross the highway and walk them through the park and back again, all in 40 minutes or less" is not the simplest possible form of a to-do. The only words necessary to describe this to-do are "walk dogs." Only if you cannot remember where and for how long you should walk the dogs should you write all the rest of that detail.
To-Dos are simple reminders of imminent and upcoming tasks, so keep them as simple as possible. That makes it easier and more efficient to write/rewrite or move them, thus saving time immediately.
3. Build only one to-do list!
There is a huge temptation to build a separate to-do list for each major project you tackle. You might, for example, have one to-do list for everything you need to do to complete the construction of a set of quilts: cut one, piece another, quilt a third and bind a fourth and so on. Then, you could have a set of to-do's for a weekend of entertaining. This one would include all the steps you must take to shop and prepare meals, make sure guest rooms are kept in good order, and coordinate wines with food.
The trouble with this kind of structure is that it does not permit tasks to be mingled. You are only one person, and your time passes in a linear motion. You cannot be working on quilts in one room and cooking a meal for guests in another--not unless you have all your tasks listed in one set. With only one to-do list, you can arrange tasks throughout your busy day, tasks that play off each other, tasks that fit comfortably together in terms of space and time, and tasks that keep all the activities of your day flowing smoothly.
To plan a project, consider using a mind-mapping tool. My personal favorite is Scapple, although I have used FreeMind and FreePlane in the past. Create the mindmap to include all aspects of project development, and then extrapolate tasks from the mindmap and transfer them to a proper to-do list.
4. If task is digital, add links to sites or documents.
If you have a digital task like "visit my friend's new site," it may save time to include the url for the site along with the to-do list entry, especially if you have the link at the time you add the to-do to your list.
Likewise, if the task involves writing, reviewing or editing a document on your computer, add a link to that document.
If you have more than one such digital link for any given to-do item, take a closer look: the task may be a project rather than a to-do!
5. Keep to-do's moving.
Check your to-do list frequently during the day. Use it to remind you of what needs doing, and to help you stay organized to do those things. Clean up, reorganize and reschedule to-dos as you must. It takes only a minute or two to stay on top of your to-do list several times a day, but the pay-off is huge!
Set a projected time for undertaking and completing each task. Set reminders as notifications on your phone or other handy device to help keep your activities targeted. Remove tasks from the list only as they are completed; otherwise, move them forward to the next day.
Delete completed tasks only if they do not recur. If they must be repeated on a daily, weekly, or other scheduled basis, work with instructions to repeat. Make sure your app permits this kind of scheduling, for it will be most valuable for weekly, monthly and yearly commitments.
6. Focus on today by pushing incomplete to-do's forward to the future.
Check your to-do list first thing each morning. What is on your list that you already know you will not or cannot do that day? Move such items forward to the next day. Each day's tasks will rise to the surface, and those better left for other days will move forward, leaving you with a manageable schedule.
Some tasks cannot be completed until some outside action has been taken. Say, for example, you cannot file income taxes until you receive a report from your auditor. Push such tasks forward until a reasonable amount of time has passed. Then, for example, if you have not yet received the audit, add a task to nudge the accountant to provide it so you can complete the original task of filing income taxes.
If you find a task on your to-do list that you know cannot be completed until next week, push that task forward by as many days and forget about it until then.
Pushing tasks forward reduces the number of tasks you must or want to do today.
7. Forget about priorities!
Far from mere procrastination, pushing tasks forward by a day or more has the surprisingly desirable effect of prioritizing your activities. If brushing the dogs is not as important to you as binding that new quilt, the dogs can indeed wait another day or two before being brushed.
By pushing that task forward, you clear space for the more appealing job of quilt binding, knowing full well that, once the binding is on, you will have plenty of time to brush the dogs without feeling impatient and short-changing them because you really want to finish that quilt.
Priorities change constantly! Never waste your time setting up little icons or numbers to signify priority. Instead, keep your today's to-do list limited to those tasks you absolutely must or want to do within the amount of time you have.
8. Review all to-do's twice a day, morning and evening.
Review your to-do list first thing each morning. See there at a glance what must be done during the day. Push forward anything that must be done until the next day, if you can. If you cannot push a must-do task forward, do it immediately. Get it done and out of the way. Then, you will have more time for want-to-do activities like quilting!
Similarly, as your day draws to a close, review your to-do list again. Remember and congratulate yourself for any difficult, tedious or rewarding tasks you completed during the day. Notice any tasks left unfinished, and push those forward to the next day. Before you sleep, make sure there are no to-do's left in the list for that day. In the morning, take stock of that new list and move any low-priority tasks forward by another day or more.
9. Identify must-do tasks, and work to eliminate them.
Must-do tasks are often repetitive and boring, but necessary, drudgeries of life. Usually, they involve your household, job or family. Often, you participate in doing these tasks under some duress. You may feel it's your job to wash the dishes or to shop for groceries or to answer a caller at your door.
For each such task, ask yourself carefully: "Is it really necessary for me to continue doing this task? Is there another way--a better way--to accomplish it? Could someone else do it--partner, child, parent or employee?" For example, if you are expected to mow the lawn once a week, perhaps you could hire a local teenager to do the job for you. If money is an issue--sell a quilt!
For each such task, ask yourself carefully: "Is there someone else who could do, or help do, that task?" Are you delegating household or communal affairs in an equitable manner? Are you being fair to yourself, or do you feel imposed upon when expected, for example, to cook dinner every night?
Let's face it: the more you can push must-do tasks aside to someone else, the fewer of those tasks you have to do yourself. In truth--and here's the important part--eliminating or shifting must-do tasks to others is a primary way to make time for want-to-do tasks for you!
This is particularly the case when it comes to family. The more you expect family members to look after themselves and their belongings, and to contribute to the overall wellbeing of the household, the sooner they become self-sufficient adults, regardless of age. They will give you more respect, as well as more personal space and time.
If you think that soliciting assistance from family members is selfish, give some thought to all the things you do, and likely have done for many years, that helped those same family members accomplish their personal goals. If asking for help to free your time from these onerous tasks is selfish, only you can say whether you are being too selfish.
10. Periodically, cull what is no longer important.
As you continuously review your to-do list, you will find certain tasks suddenly seem far less important than when you first added them to the list. Perhaps circumstances outside your control have changed. Perhaps something has happened that negates the merit or necessity of a particular task. Perhaps you simply realize that you really do not want nor intend to do that job!
By culling unimportant tasks, your to-do list can be maintained at a lower and less taxing level. Whereas, it may have seemed highly important to finish a quilt for someone for their birthday, you may have come across the perfect gift in a local shop or online. Perhaps that quilt can be gifted during the holidays in December instead of at that July birthday party. This kind of happenstance goes far towards lowering your stress levels by shifting the time barriers for completing work.
Acknowledge the genuine must-do's that only you can accomplish. Get on with doing and completing them in a timely manner. Bite the bullet and do not procrastinate; just DO them!
Equally, be honest with yourself about the want-to-do tasks.
In a nutshell, then, control your time by carefully selecting and managing your projects and their tasks. Put YOURSELF in charge of your time and how you manage it. If you truly want more time to quilt, this is the best--indeed, the only--way to find it!
If this article makes sense to you, and if you believe you can or have benefitted from it, please leave a comment below. If you know someone else who needs advice about how they manage their time, please forward this article to them. And, if you want to receive such assistance with your quilting space, time or money management, sign up to receive my newsletter. Thanks for your help and support!