There’s time enough, but none to spare. -Charles W. Chesnutt
We all get 24 hours a day to get things done. We also all know at least one of “those people” who seems to be a super-hero, on top of everything at all times. They’re the classroom parents, the field trip chauffeur, the dinner party host, the charity organizer, and they still manage to have a sparkling house and date nights with their spouse. Did they somehow get allotted a secret stash of extra hours in the day? Nope, they’re just using their time effectively.
What is the difference between how they are managing their time, and how you might be (mis)managing yours?
As the old saying goes, if you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail. Flying by the seat of your pants may have worked in grade school, but it definitely doesn’t work for an adult with multiple responsibilities to handle. Find a planning system that works for you, and stick with it. Between paper planners, apps, and hybrid products, there’s definitely something out there that will get the job done.
You will spend your day spinning your wheels and devoting too much time to the wrong tasks if you don’t prioritize your activities by their order of importance. Do you really need to spend a half hour searching for the perfect pasta salad recipe right now? Pick the important tasks which require the most focus to get done first, then worry about the less pressing issues.
Not Goal Setting
If you don’t know what you want the end result to be, there’s no point in trying to plan anything. Know your goals, and work backwards from there. Break your larger goal into manageable chunks that can be planned for, and then prioritized.
There is nothing weak or needy about handing over a task to someone else. “Someone else” can simply be letting your phone calls be handled by voice-mail while you focus on a larger task. Use canned responses to emails, and set up Google Alerts to keep you informed of new developments in your particular areas of interest to save time looking them up.
Unfortunately, people can be a huge time suck if you let them. A phone call that should have taken two minutes can sometimes drag on into what seems like an interminable amount of time. A quick run to the post office or bank can get you tangled up in traffic, and feeling defeated. Don’t blame others. You can’t control your environment, but you can control yourself. Get back on track, and don’t waste any more time pointing fingers.
You don’t have to say yes to everything. You’re still a nice person if you say no. Pick and choose the activities that are meaningful to you, and make alternate suggestions for someone who might fill your (vacant) shoes. Offer to help out next time, and rotate the areas you spend your time and talents in.
A Messy Workspace
While a messy desk may be a sign of genius, it’s definitely not a sign of someone who has their time priorities in order. Take a few minutes and figure out a work flow that fits your needs. Is it a labeled in/out bin on your desk? Or a cork board? Are you a Post-It hoarder? Don’t reinvent the wheel, but straighten it up a bit.
Not Using “Found” Time
Waiting in the school pickup line, sitting in the doctor’s office, having your oil changed… don’t pick up that issue of Readers Digest circa 1982. Check your planner and to-do list and see if there is something you can knock out while you’re hanging around. Even something as simple as a return email, or a quick confirmation phone call are actionable items you can check off your list.
Going Against Your Natural Rhythms
If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule your most important brain-taxing activities at the crack of dawn. Listen to the natural rhythms of your body, and find your most productive time of day to get things done. For some people, that may be when the sun rises. For others, it could be during the late show. There’s no Great Overseer of Acceptable Work Hours that is going to smite you down for taking care of business while watching an infomercial at 2am.
Not Allowing Time for Interruptions
Life is full of interruptions, and unless you live and work in a bubble, you’re going to have to deal with them. Build time into your schedule to handle them, so you avoid frustration and the blame game later on. Know that the line at your favorite coffee place moves at a snail’s pace on a Wednesday? Pencil in the extra time so you’re not thrown off track first thing in the day.
Will implementing these suggestions make you a time-management superstar overnight? No, probably not. But if you make a conscious effort to avoid the major pitfalls outlined here, you’ll be achieving more and stressing less in no time at all.