Organizing Your Time With The Action Machine

by JL Beeken on 12-19-2010

The Action MachineWe’re coming up to New Year’s again and I just know as a law-abiding, self-respecting genealogist you’re going to want to make some resolutions about better organizing your time.

If you’re in your 20′s or 30′s or even pre-menopausal 40′s you might still be imagining that life is a wide-open landscape that goes on forever. It doesn’t, at least not in the earthly sense and if you think you can still have it all and do it all, you probably can’t. I’m old enough now to be able to state that frankly and somewhat crankily. There’s some old photos up in New Jersey and another batch over in Pennsylvania that I may never get my hands on.

What I do have is a bad photo (a JPG!) of a photo of my 3rd great-grandmother that I would do just about anything to have a large TIFF scan of so I can spend 50 hours restoring it before it rots to dust.

I know that I’ll never have enough time to do everything I want to do. Our challenge, in these times of more choices than human beings have ever had, is not to pile more and more activities on ourselves but to find balance with what’s most important.

My new computer life is finally settling down so I’m back to using FreeMind mind mapping and The Action Machine to proceed. I know I’ve talked about these programs before but they’re still my cause-de-jour and absolutely central to carrying on day after day. If you’ve ever lost 3 hours of your life chasing digital penguins around on digital ice-blocks you know what I mean.

Computers should come with safety operating manuals and I don’t mean don’t-drop-it-in-the-bathtub. Computers are vehicles that we drive. Think about it.

FreeMind has taken a lot of the weight off my mind because I’m doing a better job of hiding the never-ending stream of ideas and plans. I still get to write them down so they don’t keep me awake at night. But I can also keep my priorities out front where I can see them and take action on them.

Here’s The Action Machine in action over at my house.

The Action Machine is a set of timers to keep you decisive and focused about what you’re going to do with your time. It has up to 50 lists for custom ‘actions’. I use just one named ‘Repetitive’. It presently has 13 items on it but that’s a lie. There’s probably 100 but I’m not so neurotic I need to list them all. For instance, I don’t keep eat, sleep, brush teeth and laundry on there. Except for ‘physical exercise’ (that I need reminding about) it’s limited to computer activities.

Create A Timer, The Action Machine

When I think of something else to add to the list, I type it into the ‘Add An Action’ box, add in any relevant notes, click the plus sign and there it will be on the list.

Add An Action, The Action Machine

The Action Machine can also have up to 50 Timer Groups, meaning you can set the whole timer screen for different days of the week, or any other reason you can think of. In my life there’s not much difference from one day to the next. They all tend to run together into one. So I just use the default Timer Group 1. If I have items that repeat on particular days of the week, and I do have a few, I add them to the Lightning calendar in my email because I’m there everyday, and it has alarms as well.

Timer Groups, The Action Machine

In the middle of the screen is the potential for 12 timers. To get myself ready for the day, I add a few items from the ‘repetitive’ list onto the timer board, depending what needs to be done. I fill up the rest of the squares with one-off items from my ‘Me First’ list in FreeMind. This is done by adding something like “45 scanning” to the ‘Add An Action’ box and that automatically sets a timer for 45 minutes of scanning.

Timers, The Action Machine

Timers can be started, stopped, paused, reset, edited, moved to other positions on the board and moved to other Timer Groups. The time on each clock can be adjusted up or down even while it’s running and customized to the minute.

Setting Time, The Action Machine

I try to keep the ‘Me First’ list in FreeMind to under 20 items. Enough for variety so I don’t feel trapped (because this is retirement, not a prison) but not so many that I lose track of what I most care about getting done.

I can see from tonight’s choices that I’ve set myself up for 5 and a half hours of work tomorrow and that might be a bit excessive but it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I spend less time than anticipated, and the unfinished timers can be left on the board for another day.

Total Time, The Action Machine

Every Sunday I save the report as a plain TXT file and clear the action list. I could just save the report and carry on without clearing the list. Screenshot made too small to read, for privacy’s sake, but reports describe in great detail the time scheduled, the actual time spent and the totals.

Reports, The Action Machine

I don’t need to know where my time goes looking at it backwards but it might be interesting someday. Of course, if you’re doing work for other people and need a regular report of that The Action Machine would be a great tool to use. I find it helps keep me focused and awake and that’s enough. If it was up to me, I’d make it a mandatory part of computer operating systems. Drive clearly; arrive at your destination.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan 12-19-2010 at 10:27 AM

Rats. You’ve given me tools to actually KEEP my 2011 resolution of limiting my blog reading to 30 minutes twice a day. No excuses now.

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