A few years ago, I began managing my time more carefully. Initially, I timeboxed, which means I’d write down my day’s tasks with reasonable estimates, start the clock, and try to finish each task in the allotted time.
A year ago I switched to the Pomodoro Technique (described here, app here). It still encourages timeboxing, but adds a well-defined rhythm to the work. Quick summary is “work for 25 minutes, break for 5 minutes”. Breaking work into 25 minute chunks makes it easier to get started on tasks (half the battle), fighting the clock provides some needed adrenaline to close out tasks, and the 5 minute forced break helps to maintain a clear mind. The breaks are especially important in technical work, as there is sometimes a tendency to thrash and churn on a problem due to fatigue.
Two weeks ago, I added another layer of management and began tracking my hours like a freelancer (using a web/iPhone app called Ronin). “Billing” time against work projects and personal projects is a constant reminder that time is not free, and should be spent wisely.
By the way, this post cost $15 to write.