christine alexis virgins of the screen.

This has come up a LOT lately – people asking me, “How do you do it? How do you do everything you do?” Since this is my Goal Post, I thought I would let you in behind the scenes to how I’m so productive so you can be too!

Honestly, these days it requires a little mental gymnastics on my part because I’m planning out the future (which excites me!) while maintaining the present (which I love!). But it doesn’t usually. Usually, I decide how things are going to happen and I set it up on auto-pilot with time to spare.

Note: I didn’t always have balance. From last week’s post, you’ll know this has been something that I’ve had to work toward, and now I think I’ve got a better handle on it than before.

Still, I have always been good at using my time. I’m going to tell you a story, not just to illustrate my point, but also to show you how you can do as much or as little as you want with your time. It takes a few tactics and a little advanced planning, but the results are totally worth it.

The Metaphor

When I was in college, I would finish my work in an afternoon, work out, do some art (or write poetry) and then go around campus checking on all my favorite people. Most of the time, my favorite people were busy, as many of them were in the same classes.

“How can you be done? I haven’t finished my research yet!”

“It’s not that hard!” I would laugh and they would grumble as I danced away to bother someone else.

This happened throughout my time at Juniata (Note: Art school was different. Art takes time and there is no hack to making good art in half the time. I holed up, unintentionally getting high on oil paint fumes – for hours – with the best of them.).

College was different. I did a few things that most 20 somethings do not do:

  1. I batched my classes.

  2. I batched my work.

  3. I scheduled my work.

  4. I didn’t read anything cover to cover.

Batch Classes

I planned my entire course schedule so that classes taken in the same semester were related. I did this the whole time I was at Juniata (I also did this later at UCSB – which was even easier because grad school is generally planned out and everything is deeply related.).

Whenever I mention this to people, their jaws drop and they say, “I never thought of that.”

I wanted to do the least amount of work possible and make it as easy as possible. The best way for me to do this was to take classes with related content. Because the content was related, I could use assigned texts from one class to write papers for another. I already had frameworks in place that I could draw from for the others. It also helped me sound a bit more informed than the average student because I was drawing from different disciplines to discuss a given topic.

I also had classes count for more than one degree requirement, which meant I could graduate on time, as a transfer student (and study abroad a semester!).

Batch Work

I mentioned this above, but let me take this one step further. I didn’t just batch my classes by content and requirement. I also batched them by time of day. As much as possible, I kept my classes in set blocks, giving me certain days or segments of time where I had NOTHING scheduled. This meant when I was in class mode – I was going to class. When I was off, I had the time to do whatever needed to be done.

This meant I blocked out time during the week when I was doing reading, with related writing or projects. It allowed me to focus on one task at a time without having to switch gears. It also gave me time to take naps, participate in clubs, and generally have fun.

Most importantly, I never stressed. Ever.

Scheduled Work

When I say I scheduled my work, I mean more than just having blocks of time built into my week. I also mean specific tasks. I would look at when all the big tests were. I would look at all the essay deadlines and word counts. Then I would separate my tasks into smaller goals by certain deadlines. If I finished something early, I could move to a new task, or have fun as needed.

I used lists, calendars, primarily with a pen and paper to help me retain information better. Sometimes, when I was feeling really lazy, I’d just write my schedule on the syllabi handouts from my classes, which I kept in binders (All my notes were in binders to allow for all my handouts to go next to all my handwritten notes, along with relevant outside lecture notes. This helped me find ideas easily for essays and tests later.).

Smart Kids Don’t Read

I don’t know if this is just because of how I process information, or if it’s a general habit. I know some people need to do close readings of everything, but I’m not one of those people. I’ve gotten top marks in classes without ever reading a book cover to cover.

Because frankly, it’s a waste of time once you know how to get the crucial info from a book.

At some point, someone taught me this little process for every nonfiction book:

  1. Look at the contents to check out the overview/direction of the book.

  2. Read the acknowledgements.

  3. Read the preface/forward.

  4. Read the introduction.

  5. For chapters, read the first paragraph and the last paragraph. If there is something confusing, find it in the chapter and do a close read.

  6. Read the conclusion.

I think a lot of students (and probably adults) spend so much time reading every single sentence when they research, and that isn’t practical. It can also get things confused in your head. Whenever I did a paper and had to check out books from the library, I didn’t read the 20 texts I checked out. I did the above steps (sometimes skipping one or two if I grasped the book direction quickly) to find the best info. If a book was particularly awesome or super confusing, I did a close read to make sure I understood the concept. Then, when something was interesting, I’d tell someone about it (usually my parents – no joke!).

What This Means For You

You may have read all that and wondered, “Okay Alexis. You’re a whiz! How the hell can this help me?” But that’s the thing. The things I did intuitively (and intentionally) are based on principles you can use to accomplish any of your goals – and I have used them repeatedly to accomplish mine.

It’s how I published 5 books in 4 months in 2015. It’s how I workout, play with my kid, and go on regular dates with my husband. It’s how I write 5 blog posts, manage 2 Facebook groups, promote my work on social media, and take multiple workshops EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

Here’s the simple magic sauce:

  1. Batch work.

  2. Schedule it out.

  3. Get the good stuff, ignore the fluff.

That’s it. That’s how you can have a life while fulfilling your purpose and amplifying your message.

3 Productivity Hacks: 1 batch your work; 2 schedule it out; 3 get the good stuff, ignore the fluff.

What are your tactics for mastering your time? Let me know in the comments below!

My Secret to Productivity
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