Updated: May 21, 2022
Each year around December 30th, I look around in amazement that we are here, at the brink of a new year starting.
And even though I have gotten better about my "time management", there is still this part of me that wonders, "Where did it all go?" In today's society, it seems like we are always on the grind so to speak. Yet, when we are down to the wire, we often find ourselves amazed to yet again to be out of time for this year, maybe I'll try again next.
I think a universal desire is to enjoy the time we have on this blue planet. However, for some of us, our very survival or the most basic of comforts require of us to accomplish as much as possible, as fast as possible. This hustle and bustle can cause us to feel stifled, suffocated even. How do we catch our breath?
Honestly, I have always balked against the idea of scheduling and any discussion of time management always made my eyes glaze over. To me, scheduling time would make me boring, stiff, predictable. I don't like predictable. Spontaneity is exciting and adventurous, freeing. However, as I have grown in life and my career as therapist and coach I have realized that I simply have to have a measure of structure and time keeping. I found that my stress levels decreased. But hey that's just me, right? As I continue working with people though, I found that my most productive and effective clients are those who have learned to develop systems and structure to their lives so that they can focus their time and energy on what is most important. Doing so they are able to achieve balance in life.
Don't take my word for this though. Just take a brief look at your own life. You may discover that you have a time management problem if you find yourself constantly rushing, frequently late, low on productivity, frustrated, impatient, have difficulty setting goals, procrastinating, and yes even the cringe-worthy and unproductive... multi-tasking. Those all sound stressful and anxiety provoking don't they? Below, I will briefly discuss 7 tips to help you master your time.
Understand that Multi-Tasking is a Myth
How many times have you completed a resume or cover letter and included any variation of the word "multi-tasking" in describing your qualifications for a job role? It is not only something we wear as a badge of honor, but it is almost demanded of us. Phone calls. E-mails, Text messages. Virtual meetings. Eating breakfast or lunch while driving back to the office. Eating lunch at our desks while working. This isn't even scratching the surface of our home life and interactions within the family. We are simply expected to be able to juggle it all.
However, when our brain has to process two things at once, it doesn't do either of those tasks at full power. An article by Inc. "Multi-tasking is Killing Your Brain" expands this further by explaining that when we multi-task we are actually going against the natural wiring of our brains in task completion, our work quality and efficiency is lowered, and the issues caused by working against our brain's wiring could be permanent. Multi-tasking is mostly effective only for short periods of time and usually with tasks that are habitual or routine (think brushing teeth while listening to radio or news).
Identify Where Your Time is Wasted
My time bandits are aimless internet surfing, scrolling social media, checking emails, and binge watching my favorite shows (This Is Us will be back January 4th!!!). My other time bandits are ruminating on past decisions or vacillating on future ones (it's all in my head). What are your time bandits? To begin identifying, you must first take inventory of what you are doing. Yes, here comes the boring stuff.
Time log. One of the best ways to see what you are doing is to see what you are doing. In black and white (or any other color you choose but you get the idea). Put it to pen and paper. For a week (but no less than 3 days for the very impatient), track what you are doing in real time. Don't try to estimate how much time you spent that day; actually do it. Now if you are more tech savvy, you can use the notes function in your phone or you can download an app. Zapier has a list of the 5 best time tracking apps to help you get started. How you decide to categorize your tasks are up to you. The main purpose is to help you break down and identify the various ways you are spending your time. Don't judge yourself too harshly here. Remember we are just collecting the data.
Live Within Your Goals and Values
Even within our circle of friends with whom we may have much in common, the list and order of our values and goals differ. Our life values include family, career, home, health, spirituality, finances, leisure, learning, creativity, and communication. This list isn't all inclusive. Understanding what you value most is what gives us a sense of direction in our lives. When we have a sense of direction, we can then set goals.
Visualization. Find the quietest time of the day for you (which will be most easily identified if you have completed your time log). Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. Let your imagination travel to a time in the future. Imagine you are looking back over your life. What would you most like to tell future generations about? What did you enjoy doing the most? What accomplishment do you appreciate? Answers to these and other questions close to your heart will help you with identifying your values. Jot these down. From here, you can set your goals.
Select and Wield Your Tools
You have knowledge (multi-tasking is a myth). You have tracked your time for time bandits. You have went deep inside and discovered your values. Such simple yet impactful tools you have. Choose the tools that feel most natural to you whether it be paper and pen or electronic. Now it is time to wield them. Bring all of this information together to help you fine tune your next steps and set your goals.
We all have the same 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds. Through your self-analysis, planning, and evaluation you are now ready to take action.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Regardless of what our values and goals are, we all have time bandits that are necessary (emails, phone calls, etc.). From your time log, identify your most time-consuming tasks and the amount of time it takes to complete those tasks. Look back over and see the times that you had something that needed to be done, but you found yourself procrastinating to avoid that task. Are there any patterns you have noticed? Do you find that activities that do not line up with your values and goals take longer or you procrastinate to start? Does your time log reveal you are most productive and zoned in at certain times of the day. Each of these can be keys to how we need to organize and prioritize our tasks.
Stop worrying. Often times we spend more time worrying and complaining than actually doing the tasks we would rather not do. There are things we can do to work around this. Identify the most pressing or essential items and do those first. If these happen to be undesirable tasks, consider starting small by breaking the task into smaller steps and scheduling needed breaks. We can also consider the cost (aggravation) that comes with avoiding the task and the reward (not hearing others nag). Reward yourself for doing activities you hate. In fact, fun and rewards should be sprinkled throughout your monthly or weekly schedules.
Do what you can or absolutely have to and delegate the rest.
Build Your Village
Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, or hired help-we all have a village. Ask them for help. I know, I know. You are strong. You are capable. And you want others to see you as such. Asking for help is weakness right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Asking for help is a natural part of life. To get your management of your time in check, you are going to have to learn to ask for help. It's that simple.
Look at your time log again. You know what you enjoyed doing. You know what you did not enjoy doing. You know what made you cringe at the thought of it. Now look at that list again. Can you identify what tasks absolutely without a doubt had to be completed by you? Now can you identify which tasks is safe and ethical to delegate to someone else? Or simply just ask for help completing? Time is valuable and limited. Just like budgeting money, you must protect and budget your time. Sometimes, it just isn't in the budget for you to complete those dishes. Could you ask for help getting them done? Are you in a position to hire help?
Yes Become a Creature of Habit of Sorts
If you have made it this far, thanks for sticking around with me! I cannot begin to imagine all of the brilliant counterarguments you may have come up with. (I'd love to hear from you though!) There is one thing I think I need to address before closing this article out otherwise it will be too long to read and possibly fall into the category of a time bandit (yikes!).
Crises. Yes. They will absolutely happen. And unfortunately, they don't call us up on the phone to schedule when they are coming. However, everything isn't a crisis and even if we tried to estimate, we would most likely over-estimate the number of crises we will have to face in a day, week, or month even. However, when evaluating our time log and determining how to schedule our days, we should always have some wiggle room in our scheduling to account for those out of the norm occurrences that can occasionally pop up.
It's a new year and with that comes new possibilities for us to grow into becoming a newer and more time efficient version of ourselves. With these time management strategies and tips, I hope you are ready to design the year of your dreams. Happy 2022 to you all!
There is nothing like a dream to create the future. ~Victor Hugo
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