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Be a master of time management

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. And my favorite skill to learn - just say no. Stop over-committing yourself and worrying about what others may think.