Removing the Weight From Your Schedule

Having excellent time management skills requires a feeling of control. As soon as the feeling of control goes away, your stress level increases and you become far less productive. That’s why it’s sometimes better to devote time to the task that’s weighing on you the most, even if it isn’t necessarily the most important thing you have to do at the moment.

For example, I had a big presentation coming up that, for whatever reason, was weighing on me. I found that while I was trying to work on more immediate and pressing things, this presentation was all I could think about.

I’d been having extremely productive workdays, but I didn’t feel productive. I may have been accomplishing important things, but the one thing that was stressing me was still looming.

Even though it wasn’t my most pressing deadline, I needed to devote a little time to this presentation or I was going to continue feeling stressed and not in control of my day.

I finally just dedicated a few hours to sketching out ideas. Seeing my thoughts down on paper gave me so much more confidence in my ability to finish this project. Pretty soon, I had a solid outline of what I planned to talk about, and my stress level had significantly decreased.

My presentation was far from finished, but I now felt I had a handle on it and had a clear mind to devote to other more pressing tasks.

Do you have a looming task that is stressing you out? Carve out a little time to get started now, even if the deadline is far away. Otherwise, the pressure of this impending task will just continue to build and start to interfere with your ability to focus on other things. The best way to remove the stressful weight of a task from your shoulders is to just do it.

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Time Management Paralysis

Sometimes, when we have so much to do that we become overwhelmed with all of our impending deadlines, we freeze up and end up accomplishing nothing. This is what I call Time Management Paralysis and it is a huge hurdle to overcome in our Time Diets.

Time Management Paralysis is a problem because it causes our stress level to rise and our productivity level to sink. It isn’t caused by laziness or disorganization. It’s caused by a hectic schedule and a lengthy to-do list where everything seems of equal importance.

This week, I had to overcome a serious case of Time Management Paralysis. I went up to my office, sat down at my computer, looked at my list of tasks…and froze. I didn’t know what to do first. I’m staring down a jam-packed month of seminars, conference presentations, deadlines and projects. Everything I needed to do seemed like a big, daunting task that had to be a priority. When everything is a priority, nothing gets done.

Here is how I regained my productivity.

Four Steps to Fight Time Management Paralysis

1) Calm Down
It may seem simple, but a huge part of Time Management Paralysis is all in your head. If you spend too much time thinking about the huge stack of work you have to do, you psyche yourself out for failure. Don’t let yourself spend precious energy on self-doubt. (Loyal readers know my favorite story about the two cows that illustrates this point.)

2) Write it Down
All of our deadlines and obligations can get tangled up in our heads. Take the time to write down everything that needs to be done, even if it doesn’t seem very organized. Just putting it all down on paper can free up valuable brainpower, allow us to think more clearly, and bring back that feeling of control.

3) Break it Up
When writing down all of your big “Meat” tasks, be sure to break them up into smaller more manageable pieces. For example, I am giving a presentation in Texas next month. When I see “Create San Antonio Presentation” on my list, it sounds difficult and daunting. Instead, I broke that task up into smaller chunks and wrote, “sketch out speech,” “create slides,” “make hand out,” etc…Those smaller tasks are easier to complete and remove the anxiety of tackling something huge.

4) Set Yourself Up to Win
We know our strengths and we know that some tasks are bound to give us more frustration than others. When you are trying to overcome a case of Time Management Paralysis, start off with a task you know you’ll be able to finish. Experiencing some productivity success will give you the momentum to tackle the tasks that are more likely to pose a challenge.

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Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici

Finding Your Time Management Groove

“In the zone” “On a roll” “In the groove.” No matter what you call it, we all know what it’s like to be in a highly productive state. Ideas seem to just flow, time seems to stand still. It’s as though…(dare I say it)…you enjoy doing your work.

This kind of work is great for our time management because we are the most efficient and productive. However, it can often be difficult to transport ourselves into this productive state when we need it most!

This concept is referred to as “flow” by a Hungarian psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (whose name is harder to spell than it is to pronounce.) He talks about flow as a period of “completely focused motivation,” and he even has three tips about how to reach this highly-desirable state.

1) Be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals
Working toward a goal is far more motivating than simply meandering through your day. Be sure to set both short-term and long-term productivity goals for yourself so your work is purposeful.

2) Have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills
In other words, if you have the confidence that you can complete a task, you’re far more likely to do it efficiently. If the task is too easy, you’ll be bored. If the task is too difficult, you’ll be frustrated. The path to productivity is one that has just the right amount of challenge.

3) The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback
Few people like to work just for the sake of working. Seek frequent feedback. Is your task producing the desired result? Better to find out at the beginning of a task that you need to change course, rather than waiting until it’s finished to realize you made a mistake!

While these three factors may not always be within your control, the more you can harness them the better. Optimizing your “flow” causes your work to be completed much faster.

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Photo Credit: Dan

How to Jump Start Your Energy

In order to have excellent time management skills and complete everything on your daily list, you need three things: 1) Time 2) Motivation and 3) Energy. If you’re anything like me, that third ingredient, energy, is sometimes hard to come by.

I’ve been in a real energy drought this week, mainly because I had such a relaxing holiday break that jumping right back into 100% productivity is a shock to the system. It’s felt like trying to go 0 to 60 in a broken down station-wagon.  I certainly don’t have the magic energy solution (or I’d be enjoying early retirement on a beach somewhere in Hawaii) but here are some things that work for me.

1) Fight Boredom
Boredom is one of the worst energy zappers.  If you aren’t interested in what you’re doing, your energy level will plummet. Make boring days more interesting by changing up your routine. Try switching the order you usually complete your tasks. Turn your work space around, or my personal favorite, open a window! Getting a little sunshine is a great change to a dull workspace. This article suggests some other ways to make small changes to find more energy such as taking a different route to work.

2) Drink Water
I can’t function without my morning cup of coffee, but I also can’t function without a few refills on my water bottle throughout the day.  Drinking water keeps you alert and hydrated. When my energy level starts to fade mid-afternoon, a few gulps of ice water is the first thing I try.

3) Move Around
We’ve all heard that exercise gives you energy, and that’s great, but when I’m on a deadline I don’t have the time to hop in my car and go to the gym. Instead, try standing up and walking somewhere briskly, even it is just across the room or around the corner. When I’m trying to knock things out and work in the afternoon, I’ll get up and go to the mail room to check my mailbox, even though I know there is nothing there, just for the energy boost.

4) Fake it!
When I stumble into my car to drive to work at 6am, I’m always amazed at how peppy the announcers on the radio are. Here I am still trying to wake up and they have already been at work for the better part of two hours. Then it occurred to me: when your job depends on having energy at the crack of dawn, you must get pretty good at faking it. Sometimes just pretending to be awake and energetic can be helpful, rather than sulking in your tired state. Pretending may not work all the time,   but wallowing in your lack of energy does nothing for your productivity.

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Photo Credits:
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David Castillo Dominici
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My 10-Second Time Management Resolution

How long does it take you to complete your most dreaded “Vegetable” task on your to-do list? Easy, mindless Vegetable tasks are the easiest to put off because they “just take a few minutes.” However, if you knew exactly how little time they took, you’d be more likely to just get them over with.

While many people resolved to eat healthier in 2012,  my time management resolution is to stay on top of my Vegetable tasks before they build up and become more difficult Meat tasks.

My Time Management Resolution

The tasks I chose to tackle are keeping my office and kitchen clean. Filing a paper, or putting a bowl in the dishwasher hardly takes any time at all, but when I’m faced with a long afternoon of work to do, tidying up is the last thing on my mind.

But we all know how that story ends don’t we? Pretty soon, it isn’t just one bowl, it is a sink full of dishes. Pretty soon, it isn’t just one paper, it is a whole stack of papers. Then I’m left with two messes that will take a more substantial amount of time to tackle. My two easy Vegetables tasks have become Meats.

How Long Things Actually Take

Well this year is going to be different.

It takes exactly 10 seconds to file a piece of a paper.
It takes 6 seconds to put a dish in the dishwasher.

I know this because I timed myself.

Now, when I go to set a document down on my desk, instead of telling myself: “This will only take a minute to file. I’ll do it later.” I will instead say, “It takes 10 seconds to open the filing cabinet and put this away. I’m going to do it now.”

Why This Works

When we really don’t want to do something, we start to convince ourselves that things take longer than they actually do. If we know the exact amount of time it takes to complete a task,  it is easier to find the motivation to do it.

This year, pick your most annoying Vegetable, whether it is for work, home, or school, and time how long it actually takes you to complete. Then, when you catch yourself trying to put it off, ask yourself if it’s really worth saving it until “later” and letting it become a Meat task, or is it better to just take the allotted time now and finish it.

Good luck with your Vegetables and Happy New Year!

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Photo Credit: Dream Designs