I’m a reasonably busy dude. In addition to working full time in my role as Family Breadwinner, I host and produce (as some of you may know) the Skeptoid podcast, with weekly episodes since 2006. I also have a plethora of side projects that I manage to work in somehow: writing this blog, obviously; my video podcast inFact with Brian Dunning; ongoing development on at least two television proposals with Ryan Johnson; miscellaneous projects like the weekly Skeptoid newsletter and the odd video like Here Be Dragons or Truth Hurts; and squeezing in Skeptics in the Pub or Skeptics in the Jeep as opportunity permits. I also play as much high-level volleyball as I can. But none of those activities get priority on my calendar; that honor goes to Being a Dad. All weekend long, and every morning at breakfast, and every evening from 5:00pm on, I’m a dad. Everything else that I do has to be worked around that.
I don’t have an army of clones like Mr. Atoss, and I do not believe Lisa could consider herself a podcast widow, given my top prioritization of family time. So you might fairly ask (and many of you often do): How the heck do I manage to do all of this??
In an earlier career, I was a software project manager. The only truly valuable thing I took away from that was the concept of time management. There are various formal models and software tools, but none of those work for me; I don’t have the patience or attention for formalized methodologies. I took the part that does work for me and I incorporated into a curriculum that I sometimes teach to small businesspeople looking to become software entrepreneurs in addition to their current business. This means working two jobs at once, something they rarely realize, and rarely take seriously. Generally, they consider their software business to be a sort of side project, and they treat it as a hobby, working on it at odd hours, whenever they happen to find a spot of spare time.
Many podcasters and bloggers treat their project as a hobby as well. The difference between a hobby and a profession is that one is taken seriously, while the other is not. One is an obligation, the other is done at your pleasure. If you work on your podcast or blog whenever you feel like it, whenever it pleases you to do so, whenever some spare time happens to rear its head, you are doing what I call Farting Around. That’s a hobby. I always knew that’s not what I wanted Skeptoid to be.
When I set out to plan my daily schedule, to delineate projects I take seriously from hobby projects, there were four basic items I wanted to accommodate:
- My full time job. I can’t control the hours I work, basically 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, so this the first thing on my calendar.
- Being a dad. I only get one shot at this, so I assign it all the time that the kids and are both home. That’s every day after 5pm, and every weekend.
- The Skeptoid podcast. After the above items, it’s obvious that not a lot of time slots are left. The time slots I found are in the early morning. My Skeptoid day starts at 5:30 in the morning, every day, and ends when the family gets together for breakfast.
- All of my other projects are hobbies. I work on them whenever I get a chance. There are always short days at work, days off, times when Lisa and the kids are gone, or the kids are out with friends. All my random stuff is done at these odd times.
An exception is the inFact with Brian Dunning video series. This was a purely speculative project, and it required a considerable allocation of resources to do properly. So I talked with my family and we agreed that I would devote a series of Sundays — otherwise family time — to the production, plus two weeknights of editing for each episode. This was acceptable to all of us because it’s a finite project; it’s one season of 13 episodes. If it ultimately proves to be a worthwhile investment and continues, it will replace one or more workdays during the week, and will not affect my other scheduled time. If such a deal can’t be worked, then it’s a deal I won’t make.
I am not moved by the complaints of anyone who tells me they don’t have time for some pet project, but who sets their alarm clock any later than I set mine. If you’re serious about your project, treat it seriously; if you’re not willing to hard code it into your daily schedule, call it what it is: a hobby.
But all of this is only half the issue. Finding the time is one thing, but managing the time once you have it is something else. This is where project management comes in. At a minimum, you must at least delineate the steps and milestones and set deadlines for each. You must be prepared to redline any items you’re not going to have time to complete. The basic steps in a Skeptoid episode are research, writing, editing, recording, audio editing, referencing, posting, and promoting. I know how much time each of the latter steps takes, so sometimes I have to reluctantly cut short the research and writing. I plan for this in advance, and always start with a general outline, and I know what research is going to take the longest. Sometimes I have to make big decisions earlier. For example, the JFK assassination episode is still a long ways off because I know that research has to include reading Vince Bugliosi’s massive book.
So that’s the long answer to the question of how I manage to do everything I do. It’s simply basic time management, and the discipline to stick to a planned schedule. Although, if I could superposition and do multiple things at once, that would be pretty cool.