Most people agree they are not as productive with their time as they’d like to be. If we could freeze time or add an 8th day to the week, we’d be in much better shape. But, until someone figures out how to do that, there’s still some good news. With some self analysis and even minor tweaking of your current system, it may soon seem like you have more time than before to do the things you love. Invest a little time in yourself because you are worth it! Put your analytical hat on and ponder your relationship to time. Can you identify any challenges that hinder your ability to use time more efficiently? Do any of these sound familiar?
Distractions: Too much time and momentum is lost constantly switching gears because of phone calls, emails or other distractions. Do all these distractions warrant your immediate attention and the extra time it will cost you to refocus on what you were doing before the interruption? The fact is you can control many predictable distractions. An emergency is one thing, but every call, email, text, demand from your children, your colleagues, etc., needn’t be addressed immediately and can generally be postponed, at least temporarily, until after you finish what you are doing. For 1 week, try eliminating distractions for 30 minutes a day and work on a predetermined priority task. Get “unplugged” and allow yourself to focus completely on the task at hand. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in a shorter, uninterrupted time, in contrast to jumping in and out of tasks. Try increasing your “unavailable” time the following week, before succumbing to your irresistible urge to check in with the world. I predict it will be pretty much the same as you left it.
Energy related: Are you at your freshest in the morning or are you more of a night owl? We have fairly predictable energy cycles. Don’t plan a complicated project or to exercise at 4 pm, if that’s when you are always pooped. Plan “no brainers” or a break for predictably low energy times and more challenging or vigorous tasks for when you are usually at your best.
Unidentified goals: Without defined goals, we fly by the seat of our pants, wandering aimlessly and without purpose. Figuring out your goals is not difficult. List a handful of broad categories, such as self, family, friends work, finance, community and education. For each category, write down your overall goals and then list some activities that further those goals.
Self: Goals- Enjoy life and live a healthy lifestyle
Activities – Exercise, 7 hours of sleep, cook healthy meals, leisure reading and hobbies
Family: Goals- Meaningful time with spouse and children, raise confident, well adjusted kids
Activities – Family dinners and outings, date night, HW help and nightly reading with kids
Friends: Goals – Maintain valued friendships and be a good friend
Activities – Phone calls and get togethers
Work: Goals- Stay on top of new developments and establish self as an expert in my field
Activities – Paperwork, meetings, reading, social networking, education, strategic planning, marketing and writing articles
Finance: Goals- Live within means, save and strive to retire by age 65
Activities – Pay bills timely, study investments and meetings with financial adviser
Community: Goals- Contribute to the community and establish strong community ties
Activities – Attend Chamber of Commerce meetings and volunteer services
Education: Goals – Stay informed of news and strive for increased knowledge and personal growth
Activities – Read newspaper and take continuing ed classes
After listing your categories, goals and activities, contemplate how you currently spend your time. Do your activities support your goals? Are any categories being neglected or taking up too much of your time? What you want to do more of says a lot about your values and what you deem important. As you consider new things to do, allow yourself to mull it over. They should all support a goal of yours, even if it’s purely recreational. Otherwise, you are wasting your time!
Keeping your goals in mind will help you prioritize, stay motivated and focused. Now you know why you want to complete each task. Maybe you’ll think twice about bailing on your next workout if you remember this is helping you to live a healthy lifestyle.
Your list is all well and good, but can all the activities you’ve listed fit on a hypothetical weekly or monthly calendar? If you can’t cram it all in even on paper, you will need to be more selective, postpone, alternate, reduce frequency, delegate or eliminate some of the activities on your list. For ex., if you have no time to read your work literature and the latest romance novel, consider alternating days or weeks for work reading and leisure reading.
Here’s a list of possibilities for you to work on to improve many common obstacles to better time management:
Misjudging time: You have unrealistic goals that can’t possibly be completed in the time allotted? Stop shortchanging yourself of time and setting yourself up for repeated failure! Anyone can improve their time estimating skills. As you plan your schedule or create your to do list, include your best guess on how long each task will take. Time yourself and see how close you were. Over time you will become a much better estimator, which translates into less over scheduling, more realistic expectations and setting yourself up for success. You may even be surprised to find that some tasks you avoided (like the plague) are actually easier and less time consuming than you imagined.
Time Log to learn where your time goes: Do you often think jeez, where did the time go? Why not find out? Keep a time log for a week and you’ll have your answer. Simply jot down your activities with approximate start and end times. Then, analyze the overall weekly time spent on various categories of activities. Tweak it to work toward a better balance, particularly if one area seems to be monopolizing your time at the expense of others.
Saying yes too often: With limited time, be selective about how you spend it. Before you impulsively agree to another commitment, allow yourself to consider it more carefully. Maybe it’s not worth doing now or at all! Is it worth doing if you have to trade off something else that’s important to you? Can it be deferred or delayed? Could you ask for help, to speed it up or to make it more enjoyable? Maybe the best course of action is to delegate it to someone who will do it good enough or possibly even better than you could and in less time.
Psychological obstacles: Some obstacles may have deeper psychological roots and without addressing them (with or without outside help), it will be difficult to move forward.
Enjoyment of disorganization: Is there some hidden reward from being disorganized. Perhaps your payoff is not having your boss give you more responsibility, which would frighten you
Fear of failure or fear of success: Delve into the root cause of this fear and maybe you can begin to overcome it. Think in terms of what is the worst thing that could happen if I succeed or fail at this? Maybe the consequences aren’t as dire as you imagine.
Fear of spare time: Do you fill all your time because being left alone with your thoughts and having to confront unpleasant issues is frightening?
Need to feel useful: Do you enjoy being everyone else’s caretaker or savior, at the expense of your own needs and desires?
Fear of completion: Maybe you don’t want to complete something because you really don’t want to get to the next step.
Perfectionism and/or fear of criticism: Continuing to work on a project beyond a certain point has diminishing returns. It may not be worth spending another half hour on an inconsequential letter that is good enough, where any improvement will be negligible? We forget that we are fallible humans. If you look closely, nothing is truly perfect. To seek and require perfection from yourself is to guarantee failure and to waste time. Try harder to be ok with average. Better than 50% isn’t bad. Finally, if you are a perfectionist, you can probably lower your standards to some degree, without anyone even noticing the difference.
Indecision: Toiling for too long wastes time. You have to make decisions to move ahead. Cut yourself some slack. Mistakes are inevitable. As you grapple with a decision, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen if I do x verses y and will it even matter next year. If the consequences are not as monumental as you thought, you may have an easier time making a decision and moving onward.
After identifying the obstacles that hinder your time management skills and in thinking about how to improve upon your current system, consider these time management tips:
Combine activities: Kill 2 birds with one stone. Listen to books on tape while commuting to work. Talk to a friend or help your child with homework while preparing dinner. Exercise with a friend. Be creative and consolidate activities to save time.
Increase your fees: Make the same income in less time.
Reward yourself: Having something to look forward to will keep you energized.
Find shortcuts: Keep items where they are used most and create ways to streamline repetitive activities. Online banking, automatic deposits, templates for letters you often create from scratch, etc.
Change activities: To offset boredom, change activities every hour or 2 or if you find your are headed off to zombie land sooner.
Take breaks: Stretch, take a walk, stare into space, close your eyes. It will keep you fresher and more productive when you return.
Chunk like tasks together: Handle emails or return calls in batches for greater efficiency.
Just do it: Don’t wait for motivation to arrive. Start anyway and your motivation will likely come from the task itself. Look for interesting aspects as you proceed and take away the reward of increased knowledge and/or a job well done. The simplest remedy to an unwanted task is to do just it!
Set start and end times: For activities that drain too much, set start and end times, so you won’t fall into a black hole. Consider using a timer or the alarm on your phone.
Your big picture goal should be to build on what’s already working and tweak what is not.
Give something in this post a try. What do you have to lose? Keep at it and soon it will become a new and improved habit. Celebrate your efforts and periodically reassess your categories, goals and activities, to add and delete as necessary. If you prefer to work with someone, I can help you improve upon your current system. Keep your eye on the prize. Improved time efficiency leaves more time to do the things you love.
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