How much time to you spend doing the things you do?
Are you sure?
Being a master of time management is a highly valuable skill you need to reach your goals.
Time is the one asset you have that once you use it, you can’t get it back. It can’t be recycled, you can’t buy more of it (technically, anyway, and I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere), and to harness it you need to first have an awareness of how you use it.
I have known so many people who have absolutely no concept or idea how they spend their days and have minimum to no perception how long activities truly take. Then they end up stressed, wondering why they’re always behind schedule or arriving late. They might think that it takes 30 minutes to get ready to leave the house, when in reality it takes over an hour. Then the traffic that normally takes 15 minutes actually takes 45 (or more, particularly here in Southern California). Or perhaps they commit to meeting friends for dinner at 6pm and have no idea that what they have to get done before that realistically puts their arrival sometime around 8pm, and they end up calling and apologizing or asking to reschedule, putting other people out for their poor planning.
This weak handle on time management stems from a lack of self-awareness is simply due to a lack of proactive planning and prioritization.
Time management is a valuable skill you need to realize your goals. It’s the tool you utilize to get yourself from point A to point B, and to organize all the steps in between. When you assign yourself a deadline - and you absolutely should - you need to manage your schedule and time blocks. A realistic view and thought process should be employed when you plot each step you need to take to get yourself there.
This skill, which can be learned and mastered with practice, helps you to prioritize your life and everything in it. When you finally recognize and accept how long things take vs. how much available time you have during your day, you create for yourself an environment in which you are focused, organized, productive, in control, and relaxed.
When you have a handle on your time, you are better prepared for those unavoidable surprises and last-minute changes - which we all know will undoubtedly happen! - which results in lower levels of stress.
And we can all stand to reduce the stress in our lives, right?
To be a master of this skill, you need to train your brain. The six tips I have listed here are in no particular order, but they do require effort on your part, and have proven themselves to be quite effective:
Prioritize your responsibilities and what you want to accomplish. Don’t ask yourself if you’re too busy to do something, re-frame your mindset and ask yourself it’s a priority to you. It can make your decision sound ugly to you, but you need to be honest with yourself if you’re just making excuses to avoid something. If it’s truly not a priority, put it on the back burner or just drop it. If it is a priority, you’ll find a way to fit it in.
Arrange a schedule and give yourself deadlines. Things don’t get done without deadlines. But they need to be realistic (again, that’s where mastering the art of time management also comes in handy). If you have an important meeting on Friday, you need to have your dry cleaning picked up by Thursday - or even better, by Wednesday. If you need to be somewhere by 2pm and it takes an hour to get there, don’t start thinking about leaving an hour before; you should already be in your car and on your way by then. Plan ahead and give yourself some cushion as things can and will go wrong.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll get more done by multi-tasking. This is a myth. Sure, you can have more than one file on your desk that needs attention and convince yourself that you’re getting them all done at the same time - but you’re not. Your brain can only fully focus on one thing at a time. If you’re splitting your attention, things will get missed. And you’ll find yourself backed into a corner again. If you have tasks that are mentally draining, by all means, switch your focus to something else every so often, or better yet, take an actual break and walk away…but realize that the difficult task is indeed temporarily on hold. You will of course return your attention to it later, but you are not, in any way, multitasking. I know this first-hand…people always used to wonder how I could get so much done so quickly. It’s because whatever I was working on had my full, undivided attention.
Figure out when you are most productive - morning, afternoon or, like me, late at night - and attack your most difficult or even least-liked task. This may be budget or bill-paying tasks, or editing, or some other mundane chore that can’t just be cast aside. If you get things like this done during your high-energy states, then you move onto something that actually excites you when you are perhaps naturally less stimulated, what happens to your energy? It builds up again and stays at a high level. Imagine what you can get done if your energy and attention stayed at a steady level all day? Practice this for a while and it becomes more natural, and you become more productive overall.
Force yourself to take breaks. So much research shows that for every hour you work, you should take a 5-15-minute break. And stop skipping your lunch breaks. You’re working hard and you not only deserve the break, but your brain needs it to stay at optimum operating levels.
And my favorite skill to learn - just say no. Stop over-committing yourself and worrying about what others may think.
To get you started on your path to time management mastery, I’d like to send out a challenge.
First, pick at least three days in the very near future, hopefully during the next week - any three will do, over the next week, but it’s best to not choose your rest days, where you’re planning on recuperating, lounging, binge-watching your weekly shows, etc. Select three days during which you plan to be active. FYI, you can pick more, but I find that some start to lose interest after three days, but you do what’s best for you, as long as you keep it to a minimum of three.
There are 3 parts, and all you need are two pieces of paper, a pen, and your honesty.
Your first task in this challenge is to create a written outline of how you expect to spend those three days and how long those activities will take.
What is important is that you don’t try to convince yourself how long something will take…just write down what you estimate. What time you get up, how long it takes you to get ready, how much time you spend on particular tasks at work or home; include transportation time, meal prep time, everything you do. Do it for the entire day, including sleep. If you have to prepare for an upcoming meeting or presentation, include how much time you’ll spend doing it. When you’re done this, DO NOT add up the hours you estimated for the day. I really just want you to do a rough projection.
Now…put the log away. Fold it up and put it someplace out of your sight. Don’t put it in your briefcase or purse, don’t leave it sitting on your kitchen counter. Just put it away and don’t dwell on it. This isn’t a test and you don’t need to share it with anyone. In fact, as much as you can, just push it out of your mind.
Now, unfortunately, comes the difficult part and takes a pretty serious commitment.
I want to emphasize that during this exercise, you are not allowed to judge yourself or worry about how you are spending your time. You will lose value in this exercise if you fudge the numbers or leave anything out.
On the same days you chose before, I want you to keep a log of everything you do - and I do mean everything, including breaks, meals, phone calls, time on social media, watching TV, walking the dog, taking the kids to practice and what you do during practice, etc. - log the activity, in chronological order, and how much time you spend on it. It may be easier and faster at the moment to log when you start and stop each activity. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you should make an effort to be as accurate as possible. That’s why I ask that you only need to do it for three days.
At the end of your study period, compare your actual results with your expectations. Were your predictions accurate? Did you find any surprises? Did you get to everything you originally planned?
Good luck, try to enjoy it, and we’ll look at the completed assignment and results next time.